Elder abuse is a sensitive matter. However, it’s important that it is discussed and that we have knowledge and awareness surrounding the different forms of abuse, the ability to spot the warning signs and how to properly report it.
Elder abuse is the infliction of physical, emotional/psychological, sexual or financial harm on an older adult. In the U.S. alone, more than half a million reports of elder abuse reach authorities every year, and millions more cases go unreported.
Elder abuse can come in a variety of forms:
Physical Abuse: Occurs when there is non-accidental use of force against an elderly person that results in physical pain, injury, or impairment. Inappropriate use of drugs or constraints is also considered forms of physical abuse.
Emotional Abuse: Also known as psychological abuse, can involve a caregiver saying hurtful words, yelling, threatening, repeatedly ignoring the older person or humiliating them. Keeping that person isolated from seeing close friends and relatives is also a form of emotional abuse.
Sexual Abuse: Includes contact with an older adult without their consent.
Financial Abuse and Exploitation: Happens when there is unauthorized use of an older person’s funds, or property. It can include: forging checks, taking retirement benefits or social security, changing names on a will, life insurance policy or a title to a house without the older adult’s permission. As well as, scams through the phone or online asking for personal financial information.
Caregiver Neglect: When the caregiver does not respond to the older adult’s needs. Sometimes, although rare, it may be unintentional, if there is a level of denial regarding the possible changes and or increase in care needed.
While there are extreme cases of elder abuse, often the abuse can be subtle. The distinction between normal interpersonal stress and abuse is not always easy to detect. It is also crucial to keep in mind that some of these signs overlap with symptoms of particular medical conditions or medication side effects. So it is important to further investigate, before coming to any conclusions.
The following are warning signs that possible elder abuse is happening:
- Trouble sleeping
- Sunken eyes or loss of weight
- Unexplained bruises, broken bones or scars
- Report of drug overdose or apparent failure to take medication regularly
- Threatening, demeaning, or controlling the caregiver’s behavior
- Behavior that mimics dementia, such as rocking, sucking, or mumbling to themselves
- Unsanitary living conditions – bugs, soiled bedding and clothes, being left unbathed
- Significant withdrawals from the older adult’s accounts
- Unnecessary services, goods, or subscriptions
- Items or cash missing from the older adult’s household
When assessing the situation, look for clusters of any of these or more warning signs.
Caregiving can be a rewarding experience. However, overtime it can create stressors that lead to mental and physical health problems. Unaddressed stressors can leave caregivers feeling burned out, impatient, and more susceptible to neglecting or lashing out at the older adults in their care. For further information on how to prevent caregiver burnout, check out our blog post 7 Caregiver Burnout Strategies and How to Prevent It. Some of the other caregiver risk factors that can lead to abuse and neglect are: A financial problem, substance abuse, or if the older adult becomes abusive due to Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
Elder abuse can get quite complex. If it is a family caregiver that is suspected of abuse, other family members may have the best chance of convincing the older adult to consider alternative care. The earlier you intervene in a situation of elder abuse, the better the outcome will be for everyone involved.
The abuse will not stop on its own. If you are an older adult who is being abused, neglected, or exploited, tell at least one person. Tell your doctor, a friend, or a family member whom you trust. Do not confront the abuser yourself. If you are concerned this is happening to a friend or loved one, don’t let fear keep you from reporting your suspicions, as you could be saving someone’s life.
If you suspect mistreatment or self-neglect of an older adult, you can report it to Adult Protective Services (APS) who can intervene on the person’s behalf.
Adult Protective Services (APS):
Adams County: (303) 227-2049
Arapahoe County: (303) 636-1750
Boulder County: (303) 441-1309
Denver County: (720) 944-2994
Douglas County: (303) 663-6270
Jefferson County: (303) 271-4673