Selecting a care facility or caregiver for an aging parent is never an easy process. In addition to price, services and amenities, knowing that the staff will treat them with the utmost care and respect is a top priority. Sadly, elder abuse is a common issue for individuals 60 and older.
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA) nearly one in ten individuals over the age of 60 are the victim of some form of elder abuse. The organization defines elder abuse as “physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect, and abandonment.” Most people consider nursing home situations to be the most common location for the occurrence of elder abuse, however, abusers can also include children, other family members and spouses.
Sadly, elder abuse is often unreported. The NCOA suggests that only one in fourteen cases of abuse are ever brought to the attention of law enforcement officials. The elderly more vulnerable to abuse because they often live in social isolation. Additionally, conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can create distinct mental impairments. Because of this, family members must be aware of the signs of elder abuse so that they can advocate on behalf of their loved ones.
- Physical abuse – Bruises, broken bones, burns, skin abrasions and pressure marks can be signs of elder abuse. While these symptoms are often more prevalent in older adults because of the frailty of their bodies, family members should pay close attention to any unexplained marks or injuries. Additionally, if caregivers do not allow you to be alone with the elderly individual it might be a red flag that something is not right.
- Neglect – The individuals or facility that you hire to oversee your aging parents have a responsibility to ensure that basic daily hygiene and care take place. If you notice dirty clothing, bedsores, soiled bed clothes or diapers, unexplained weight loss, an untidy room or the lack of the medical aids your parent needs for normal functioning (i.e. glasses, walkers, hearing aid), they could be a victim of neglect. It is important to note that neglect is not always intentional, but could be a sign that the caregiver or facility does not have adequate help.
- Verbal abuse – Verbal abuse can be hard to detect if you are not acutely aware of changes in your parent’s behavior. Do they appear withdrawn or apathetic? Are they demonstrating abnormal behaviors such as rocking, biting or humming. Does your parent seem nervous or fearful of you or the caregiver? Emotional abuse ranges from simple verbal comments, to more assertive attacks. It is often used in combination with physical abuse or even isolation.
- Sexual abuse – While it is difficult to think about, sexual abuse against the elderly does happen. It comes with physical signs that might include of bruising around genitalia or breasts, bleeding and difficulty walking or standing. In addition, there can be subtle clues such as depression, withdrawing or even inappropriate flirtation or touching by the caregiver.
- Financial abuse – Because the elderly often have a considerable net worth, they can easily become victims of financial exploitation. Signs of this type of abuse might include unpaid bills, odd purchases, increased charges to credit cards, money that is unaccounted for, frequent cash withdrawals and new bank or credit card accounts.
If you suspect your loved one is the victim of elder abuse, it is important to contact law enforcement officials immediately. In addition, seek the counsel of a compassionate legal professional with expertise in the area of elder and nursing home abuse.