Elder Abuse: How to Prevent It, How to Spot It, How to Report It
Every five seconds, an elderly person is abused. That amounts to 6 million cases of elder abuse per year, according to Elder Assistance Daily, an online resource on the subject. And those are just the cases that are reported.
The vulnerabilities associated with old age - physical and cognitive impairment, primarily - mean that seniors often must rely on others to meet their basic needs. When a caretaker is abusive, it may be difficult for the victim to report the abuse, given that he or she is dependent on this person and may be isolated from others in the family or friends who might help. Especially if the person has memory problems, dementia or Alzheimer's disease, complaints may go unheeded even when the person reaches out for help. It's important for everyone with an elderly loved one to be on the lookout for symptoms of abuse and to learn how to report it.
Signs of Elder Abuse
There are several different forms of elder abuse. They are:
• Physical abuse and neglect: Symptoms include slap marks; pressure marks; unexplained burns or bruises; cigarette burns; pressure ulcers; lack of medical care; malnutrition; dehydration; uncleanliness; and unexplained weight loss.
• Emotional abuse - Unusual behavior that cannot be explained by dementia or Alzheimer's disease or a physical malady, including withdrawal from normal activities and people; fear when a particular person is present; and unexplained changes in alertness.
• Sexual abuse - Bruising around the breasts an genital areas and unexplained sexually transmitted diseases.
• Financial abuse - Sudden alterations to wills, trusts and financial accounts; unusual bank withdrawals; loss of property; late bills; complaints about being unable to pay bills; sudden involvement, especially in financial affairs, by family members or others who have not normally been a part of the person's life; change of power of attorney; stating they have won a prize or the lottery; lots of unnecessary purchases they normally wouldn't buy.
If the person is being prevented by a caretaker from seeing family and friends and going out for usual activities that he or she is still capable of doing, that also may be a sign that something is amiss.
Reporting Elder Abuse
The elderly are most often abused by family members, such as adult children and spouses, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, a branch of the U.S. Administration on Aging,
Again, this makes it even more difficult for the victim to get help, especially if he or she is physically or mentally impaired.
If you suspect someone you know is in immediate or life-threatening danger, call 9-1-1 right away. Suspected elder abuse can also be reported to the local law enforcement agency. The National Center on Elder Abuse website includes a comprehensive list of numbers on where to report elder abuse in each state. Go to http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/ncearoot/Main_Site/Find_Help/State_Resources.aspx. In addition, the Eldercare Locator hotline can be called for state specific information at 1-800-677-1116.
Prevention of Elder Abuse
Seniors can protect themselves from abuse by taking care of their health, going on regular doctor's visits, taking needed medications and eating a healthy diet. This can prolong the ability to take care of one's self and delay the need for a caregiver. Staying active in the community and maintaining regular contact with family and friends is also important, so that someone will notice any irregular behavior. Seniors should also become educated about their rights by visiting a trusted attorney before signing any documents.
Others who are concerned about elder abuse can help by visiting local senior citizens, checking to make sure they have food and other necessities, volunteering with a local senior center or agency, such as Meals on Wheels and not being afraid to speak up when they suspect abuse.
Another way to help is to encourage local nursing homes to join the Advancing Excellence in America's Nursing Homes Campaign, which aims to improve the quality of life for the 1.5 million seniors in nursing homes across the country. For more information, visit www.nhqualitycampaign.org.