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How Can I Watch for Signs of Elder Abuse?

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As people age and become more physically and mentally vulnerable, they may become victims of elder abuse. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA) about one in 10 Americans over age 60 have experienced some form of elder abuse. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, mistreatment of an older person is usually by a caregiver. While care facility employees and paid attendants could be perpetrators, almost two thirds of abusers are family members, according to NCOA.

What is elder abuse?

The National Research Council defines elder abuse and mistreatment as “intentional actions that causes harm or create a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable elder…” or “failure by the caregiver to satisfy the elder’s basic needs or to protect the elder from harm.”

The National Council on Aging and the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse outline the following types of abuse.

  • Physical abuse: physical force that causes injury or pain
  • Sexual abuse: non-consensual sexual contact of any kind
  • Emotional or psychological abuse: verbal threats, harassment, humiliation or intimidation
  • Neglect: failure to provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care or other necessities
  • Deprivation: denying medication, shelter, food, medical care or physical assistance
  • Financial exploitation: illegal or improper use of an older person’s funds, property, or resources

What are signs of elder abuse?

The signs of elder abuse vary depending on the type of abuse.

Signs of physical abuse and neglect according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA) are:

  • Bruises
  • Broken bones
  • Abrasions
  • Burns
  • Bedsores
  • Poor hygiene
  • Unusual weight loss

Signs of sexual abuse according to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse are:

  • Genital or anal pain, irritation or bleeding
  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Torn, stained, or bloody undergarments
  • Bruises on genitalia or inner thighs

Signs of emotional or psychological abuse according to NCOA are:

  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities
  • Unusual depression
  • Strained or tense relationships
  • A sudden change in alertness

Signs of financial abuse according to NCOA and National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse are:

  • A sudden change in financial situation
  • Unpaid bills
  • Bank withdrawals or transfers that are unexplainable
  • Usual ATM withdrawals
  • Suspicious signatures on checks and other documents
  • Missing belongings or property

How can I protect my loved one from elder abuse?

Elders who have been abused are 300% more likely to die, compared to those who have not been mistreated, reports the National Council on Aging. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, elder abuse will not stop on its own. Someone needs to step in to help the abused elderly person. To report urgent danger, call 911. In most states you can also call Adult Protective Services (APS) which is usually listed under the Department of Human Services or Social Services to report elder abuse. Law enforcement will investigate criminal elder abuse.

You can also inform yourself about the protections of the Elder Justice Act. The Elder Justice Act (EJA) passed in 2010 was the first piece of federal legislation passed to authorize a specific source of federal funds to address elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.

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