Elder abuse is tragically common. A recent study by the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) reported an average of 2,150,000 elderly abuse cases each year. According to the same study, approximately 9.5% of seniors (about 1 in 10) will experience some type of abuse. Since victims of abuse are frequently too scared or embarrassed to report it, we should all be able to recognize if a loved one or client may be a victim. This guide of common types of abuse and their warning signs can help you know what to look for:
Physical abuse is any form of physical force that results in bodily harm (e.g. slapping, assault battery, inappropriate restraint, etc.). Victims of physical abuse may exhibit both physical and emotional symptoms. Bruises, burns, pressure marks, or abrasions are all signs of potential abuse. If a caretaker or family member refuses visitors or does not allow the senior to be alone with visitors, this may also be a sign of a problem. Seniors who avoid eye contact or exhibit anger, fear, anxiety, apathy or withdrawal without explanation, could be victims of physical abuse.
Sexual abuse includes any non-consensual sexual contact. Signs of sexual abuse include bruises around the breasts or genitals, genital infections, and unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding. If you notice torn, stained, or bloody underclothing, this may also be a sign of sexual violence. As with victims of physical abuse, seniors who have experienced sexual abuse may be uncharacteristically sensitive to physical touch or closeness and exhibit emotional withdrawal, fear, or anxiety.
Insults, threats, humiliation, and distress are all forms of emotional abuse, which involves any type of verbal or nonverbal mental mistreatment. Seniors who are emotionally abused may exhibit various forms of anxiety or distress, including being upset, agitated, or fearful. They may withdraw or become apathetic and even demonstrate unusual behavior like sucking, rocking, or biting. Emotional abuse is also marked by depression and mood swings.
Neglect is failure to provide necessary care for a senior (e.g. withholding food, shelter, health care, or protection). The elder may not be given suitable clothing or covering for the weather or may be living in unsafe conditions. Signs of neglect include bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss.
Exploitation is illegally taking property, assets, or money. While exploitation may not leave physical marks, there are many clues that it has occurred. You may notice unpaid bills or eviction notices, inexplicable bank withdrawals or transfers, or missing belongings or property. Since adults over 50 control more than 70% of the nation?s wealth, they are common victims of scams. You should be wary of any new ?best friends? or ?sweethearts? who try to get close to the senior very rapidly or who ask for financial help.
Certain types of elder abuse have the same warning signs as dementia or mental decline, which may make them easy to confuse or dismiss. However, if you notice these signs and are suspicious of abuse, it?s important to alert someone else of your suspicions. It is not your responsibility to verify that abuse is occurring, but it is your responsibility to seek help. If someone is in immediate danger, you should call 911 or the local police. To report elder abuse, contact the Adult Protective Services (APS) agency in the state where the elder lives and they will be able to investigate or provide further help.