According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, elder abuse, which primarily occurs at home, may take several forms. The perpetrators are often family or other household members or paid caregivers. Some forms of elder abuse include…
PHYSICAL ABUSE: a willful infliction of physical pain, injury, or restraint. Signs may include:
- Bruises, marks, or welts around the arms, neck, wrist, and/or ankles
- Burns, often to the palms, soles, and buttocks
- Sprains and dislocations
- Frequent unexplained injuries
- Minimizing the importance of injuries or refusing to discuss them
- Refusing to go to the same emergency department for repeated injuries
Yes, it is important to note that these symptoms may also occur as a result of health conditions or medicines. If symptoms appear, they should be investigated to determine the cause.
PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE: the infliction of mental or emotional anguish, such as humiliation, intimidation, or threats. Signs may include:
- Lack of communication or responsiveness
- Unreasonable fear or suspicion
- Not wanting to socialize
- Chronic physical or psychiatric health problems
SEXUAL ABUSE: the infliction of nonconsensual sexual contact of any kind. Signs may include:
- Unexplained bleeding from the vagina or anus
- Underwear that is torn or bloody
- Bruised breasts
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Vaginal infections
FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION: improperly using the resources of an older person without consent for someone else’s benefit. Signs may include:
- Life circumstances that do not match the size of the elder’s estate
- Large withdrawals from bank accounts
- Switching bank accounts
- Unusual ATM activity
- Signatures on checks that do not match elder’s signature
NEGLECT: failure of a caretaker to provide goods or services necessary to avoid physical harm, mental anguish, or mental illness. Neglect may involve abandonment or denial of food or health-related services. Signs of neglect may include:
- Sunken eyes
- Weight loss
- Extreme thirst
- Bed sores
- Excessive dirt or odor on body or clothing
- Glasses, hearing aids, dentures, and walking devices in poor condition or missing
- Inappropriate clothes.
Though there are extreme cases of elder abuse, most elder abuse is subtle. It is not always easy to tell the difference between normal stress and abuse. Common factors at the root of elder abuse include a stressful caregiving situation, financial problems, family problems, a caregiver’s history of family violence or personal problems, and isolation of the older person.
WHAT TO DO: TIPS FROM THE AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION
If you suspect elder abuse…
- Do not worry about meddling into someone else’s business. You could be saving a life.
- Contact your state’s adult protective services agency or other services that investigate allegations of elder abuse and neglect.
- Do not confront the abuser unless you have the victim’s permission and are able to move him or her to a safe place immediately.
If YOU are being abused or neglected…
- Always keep your personal safety in mind.
- If you can find someone who can remove you from the situation (such as your doctor, a trusted friend, or member of the clergy), do so at once.
- Let your doctor know about the abuse.
- If you can get to a phone, call protective services or a friend who can help you find safety.
If YOU have been abusive or are in danger of becoming so…
- Find ways to relieve the stress of having total responsibility for the elder person’s care. Look into local respite and day care programs.
- You can find new ways of relating that are not abusive. Talk to someone who can help you, such as your doctor, a trusted friend, family member, or therapist.
- Find a support or self-help group, especially if you have substance abuse problems.
- If you cannot afford private therapy, contact your city or state mental health services department.
- Be honest about your abusive behavior.