Types of Elder AbuseThere are seven primary types of elder abuse. Each type of has distinct warning signs and consequences. Become familiar with these types of elder abuse and the warning signs so you can help “keep an eye on” any caregivers of elders in your neighborhood and in your family. Later, we’ll talk about what to do if you think elder abuse is taking place.
- Physical abuse: This is the use of force, or violence, that results in injury. The physical abuse may be used as part of inappropriate care and include things like force feeding, the use of restraints and the use of physical punishment or the improper use of medications (such as sleeping medications or tranquilizers). Signs include bruises, black eyes, rope marks, broken bones, medication overdose, sudden changes in an elder’s behavior and a caregiver refusing to allow visitors alone with the elder.
- Sexual abuse: Any sexual act without the consent of all the people involved is considered sexual abuse. This includes situations where the person is unable to give consent. In addition, unwanted touching and photographing are acts of sexual abuse. Sign include stained or bloody underclothing, unexplained genital bleeding and bruises around the breasts or genitals.
- Emotional/Psychological abuse Using verbal or non-verbal acts to cause emotional pain, anxiety or stress is emotional or psychological abuse. This includes insults, intimidation and humiliation. Disrespect and condescension can also be forms of emotional abuse. Signs include stress, anxiety, withdrawal, strange behavior and agitation.
- Neglect: The failure of a caregiver to fulfill his or her duties to an elder is elder neglect. Paying bills, providing food and water, bathing, providing clothing and more are all duties that caregivers are obligated to provide. Signs of neglect include poor hygiene, malnutrition, untreated bed sores, poor living conditions, dehydration, unclean living conditions and lack of safety.
- Abandonment: When a caregiver deserts an elder, that is abandonment. This includes the desertion of an elder in public places (such as stores) or in a hospital.
- Financial exploitation: Financial exploitation of elders is the improper use of the elder’s money, property or other assets. This includes forging checks, stealing money, tricking an elder into signing a document, or improper managing of the elder’s financial affairs. Signs include sudden changes in banking practices, unexplained withdrawal of funds, additional people added to bank accounts, sudden changes in the elder’s will and the sudden transfer of assets away from the elder.
- Self-neglect: Any behavior that an elder does him or herself that threatens the elder’s own health may be self-neglect. This includes refusing to eat, bathe or otherwise take care of him/herself. Signs include malnutrition, poor personal hygiene, dehydration, inattention/non-adherence to medications and unclean conditions.
Is It Elder Abuse?It may be difficult to determine when elder abuse is taking place. Taking care of elders is demanding work and conditions like dementia make determining what is really happening challenging. Elders may be intimidated by their abusive caregivers. Your best bet in investigating something suspicious is to talk directly to the elder (without the caregiver present) and to be extremely observant.
What To Do?Elder abuse is a crime. You can report it to the elder’s doctor or call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 and they can help you or refer you to a local agency who can give you guidance.
How Can I Prevent Elder Abuse?Caring for elders is extremely hard work. Make sure your loved one’s caregivers have the resources and support they need. On a bad days, it might not take much to put someone over the edge and in danger of abuse. Be sure caregivers, especially informal (family members) caregivers have a place to vent their frustrations and a way to get relief. Help them do a good job and you can prevent many potentially dangerous situations.
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