Is It Elder Abuse?

By Hilary Wright, Staff Writer

 

Abuse isnít happening just to toddlers and young children, but is becoming more common among the senior citizens in this country. Unable to take care of themselves, they must rely on a professional or family caregiver to help them from day to day. If you have a loved one who must depend on care from someone other than yourself, you may want to know the tell-tale signs of the many forms of abuse that they may be afflicted with. 

Sometimes, an elder may report an incident of physical abuse; however, they often wonít, so youíll need to look for other behavioral and emotional signs, like depression or withdrawal from family and friends, changes in behavior, i.e., mood swings or appearing frightened and teary eyed. Sometimes, the abusers themselves will give clues to possible abuse by their refusal to take the elder to the doctor when needed, by not allowing family and friends to see the abused person alone, by giving explanations which are found to be inconsistent with the abuse symptoms.  They may have bite marks and scratches themselves, from an elder fighting back.

Signs of physical abuse:

  • Cuts, lacerations, welt marks (a possible sign of using restraints)

  • Burn marks from cigarettes

  • Malnutrition or dehydration

  • Hair loss from someone grabbing/pulling hair

  • Sores on the body, open wounds

  • Weight gain or weight loss

  • Poor skin conditions

  • Unexplained injuries, such as fractures and breaks

  • Bruises, scratches, bite marks, finger prints

  • Frequent trips to the emergency room

  • Black eyes, broken fingernails

  • Over or under medicated

As much as people donít want to think about it, sexual abuse does occur among the elderly. Itís considered sexual abuse when something happens either without their consent or when an elderly person is incapable of making such a decision on their own. Physical signs of sexual abuse may include:

  • Bruises around the breast or genital area

  • Cuts or lacerations around the breast or genital area

  • Clothes with blood stains or tear marks

  • Soreness around breast, genital, or anal areas

  • Difficulty with walking or sitting

Some older people may report sexual assault, while others may withdraw from family and friends, flinch at certain quick movements, or be frightened by the opposite gender. The abuser will usually have a story that will not match the physical or emotional evidence noted by family members, and they will generally not allow family or friends into the home or to be around the abused person alone.

Not all abuse can be seen with the naked eye. Thereís also emotional and psychological abuse that occurs when a person is demeaning and dehumanizing to another person. Psychological and emotional abuse can also make someone withdraw into depression or even deny that anything bad is actually taking place. You may catch the abuser talking down to the person, calling them hurtful names, and begin to withdraw the elder from visiting with family and friends.

Behavioral signs of psychological abuse:

  • Continuously emotionally upset or disturbed

  • Nervous behavior and a repetition to their actions

  • Negative attitude

  • Agitation or anger

  • Rocking back and forth, sucking their thumb, or even biting (themselves or others)

Financial abuse occurs when a caregiver takes advantage of an elderly person financially, either through stealing money, lying about how much the elder needs for certain care, or cashing the elder's checks without permission.

Signs of financial abuse:

  • Caregiver withholds money from the elder

  • Checks are cashed without permission of the elder

  • Personal belongings begin to disappear

  • Power of Attorney begins to be misused

  • Caregiver isnít actually providing the services that are needed

  • Elders arenít taken to the doctor when needed

  • You notice unusual items being charged on a credit card

  • You notice the elderly person requesting a transfer of assets or funds

  • Thereís sudden and abrupt changes in a will

  • They are not aware of where all their money has gone

  • Suddenly, they are unable to pay their bills

  • They are unable to buy clothes, food, and other necessities

  • You notice withdrawals of a lot of money at the same time or within the same week

Another form of abuse is neglect and abandonment, occurring when an elderly person isnít being cared for properly, like not being fed, bathed, or properly medicated.  Ignoring an elder is also considered a form of neglect and abandonment, because the caregiver refuses to give them any sort of care. The signs of neglect and abandonment can sometimes be noticed with a simple inspection of a loved one, where you may see things like untreated sores or bed sores, malnutrition and/or dehydration, unsanitary living conditions, or dirty bed linens and clothes. You may also notice a strong odor coming from a loved one, due to the lack of continual hygiene, or obvious weight loss or weight gain. Sometimes an elder will actually begin begging you for food, or tell you they have some medical or dental need that hasnít been tended to.

Although itís no excuse, caregiver abuse, either by a family member or by a professional, often occurs due to caregiver burnout, caregiver stress, substance abuse, emotional and mental issues of their own, economic conditions or living arrangements. This doesnít mean that all caregivers are abusers, because very few are; but itís better to be informed and educated for the safety of your loved one. If itís a family member who is a caregiver for someone disabled or elderly, you can take some preventative measures in order to prevent it from occurring, or to at least notice it at the very earliest stages. Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of caregiver stress; make sure the caregiver is receiving help from others, so they donít have to do everything on their own, which can quickly lead to caregiver burnout; and investigate other living arrangements, in order to take an elderly loved one out of a toxic, ultimately unsafe environment. Elderly people donít have to be a target for others, especially by those who are supposed to care for them. Older people can also take some important steps on their own in order to make sure they remain safe from abuse of all kinds:

  • Donít live with a family member who is or has been abusive in the past.

  • Speak to friends often, especially when you feel as though you are being taken advantage of.

  • Review your will. If changes are made, be sure it is because you want them to take place, not because of pressure from family members.

  • Have friends and/or neighbors visit you often.

  • Seek legal advice when making decisions.

  • Have your Social Security or pension check deposited directly into your account.

  • Speak directly to your attorney first before signing a Power of Attorney.

  • Donít sign anything until youíve read it. If you have difficulty understanding the legal terms, make sure to seek out an attorney and have them explain it to you.

 

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