When we think of elder abuse, we think of a family member or caregiver physically injuring an elderly person. But elder abuse isn’t always what we think. It can, of course, be physical, but it can also be emotional or even financial. Would you be able to recognize the signs of elder abuse if it was happening to your family member?
Elder abuse isn’t always committed by family members. A caregiver, friend or new acquaintance can commit the abuse. It can happen to anyone, regardless of their socio-economic status or family involvement.
I had a client whose children visited regularly and paid a premium for her caregivers to give their mom the best. My staff started noticing finger bruises on her arms, then bruises on her hands and even neck. We immediately reported it to her family and it turned out that her caregivers were being too physical when they were with her. This sweet woman had highly educated children, but she herself had dementia with aphasia, so she was unable to express herself about the abuse. It broke my heart.
Physical elder abuse includes inflicting physical pain or injury on a senior by slapping, bruising or restraining by physical or chemical means. It can be difficult to see at first, since as people age, they may bruise more easily, or, the bruises are not in obvious places, but being on the lookout for new, unexplained bruising, or a change in behavior can help with detection.
Physical abuse can also include sexual abuse, a non-consensual act of any kind.
Emotional abuse can take the form of neglect, emotional abuse or abandonment.
Neglect includes the failure to provide for basic needs such as food, shelter or healthcare. If you struggle with providing these things due to financial limitations, visit my resource page or check out the caring for a toxic parent post for guidance on government assistance.
Emotional abuse includes inflicting mental pain, anguish or distress on an elder person through verbal or non-verbal acts, such as humiliating, intimidating or threatening.
Abandonment includes desertion of a vulnerable elderly person by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
Emotional abuse is just as serious as physical abuse. While there may not be physical bruising, the damage to a person’s emotional health can be difficult to detect or overcome.
This seems self-explanatory, but to be clear, financial abuse is the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit. I have seen both family members and hired help commit financial abuse, perhaps not seeing it as a big deal since they’ll get the money eventually anyway (family), or, they have so much money, it won’t impact them.
I had a client who is one of the kindest people I have ever met. Unfortunately, I have witness a few people take advantage of her kindness. She had a caregiver who gave her a sob story about being broke and not being able to take her daughter to school so my customer let her use her car and gave her $1,500! The caregiver dented her car and never returned after getting the money. Another time, she hired someone to clean her house, but the person who came over never once cleaned her house and did her own laundry at her home. She paid her $50 a week, regardless, because she felt bad for the person.
Seniors are less likely to report financial abuse because they are embarrassed that someone took advantage of them, or, they are embarrassed that they aren’t tracking their money close enough. I had a client who liked to keep $2,000 in her home at all times. I realized that someone must have been taking money because she started needing to go to the bank more frequently to replenish her stash, yet, she wasn’t shopping or spending money more frequently. She had several caregivers and a cleaning service, so it is likely that someone discovered her hiding place. Her daughters had to discourage her from keeping such large sums of money at home as a result.
Signs of Elder Abuse
If you are wondering how you can tell if your parent is a victim of elder abuse, here are some signs. Of course, you know your parent best, so any behavior or physical injuries that are unusual should be addressed. People are hesitant to tell someone they are being abuse for fear of further abuse, due to a threat to them or their family or they are embarrassed. It is up to you to spot unusual behavior and broach the topic.
- Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment.
- Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
- Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
- Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
- Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
- Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
- Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also signs.
- A caregiver or family member who keeps the caree away from other family or friends can also be a sign that there is abuse.
What to Do if You Suspect Elder Abuse
If your parent is in immediate physical danger, call 911 or the local police for help. If the danger is not immediate, you can contact the Adult Protective Services in your state.