Getting help with elder abuse and neglect can prevent injuries and death. Every year in the United States, over 500,000 cases of elder abuse are reported to authorities and many more cases go unreported.
The Warning Signs of Elder Abuse and Neglect
Elder abuse and neglect can occur under a number of circumstances, but spotting the warning signs and getting help can protect loved ones and prevent future abuse. Abuse and neglect can occur in an elderly person’s home, a family member’s home, a nursing home, or an assisted living facility. Many elderly adults suffer physical abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and neglect by people who are supposed to take care of them. Some forms of abuse and neglect are willfully and deliberately perpetrated, while others are caused by careless or neglectful actions.
Elderly adults who suffer from serious illnesses, physical disabilities, mental impairment, and diminished capacity often become incapable of essential self-care and are more vulnerable to abuse and neglect. Warning signs of neglect include the lack of personal hygiene, an unkept or malnourished appearance, increasingly unsanitary or dirty living conditions, depression, and deteriorating health. In many cases of neglect, the person may refuse to seek help from friends, family members, or doctors because of embarrassment or fear.
Common Forms of Elder Abuse
Elder abuse takes many different forms including physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, financial exploitation, and healthcare fraud.
- Physical Abuse – Physical abuse is often intentionally inflicted by slapping or hitting, pinching, pushing, or using inappropriate restraints. Warning signs include bruises, welts, cuts and abrasions, sprains, fractures, and broken bones.
- Emotional Abuse – Emotional abuse inflicts psychological pain by means of intimidation, threats, humiliation, and ridicule, yelling, blaming, menacing behavior by caregivers, and isolation from friends and social activities.
- Sexual Abuse – Sexual abuse involves forced physical contact with an elderly person without their consent. It can include the use of pornographic material and forced sexual acts, including violent acts of rape and sexual assault.
- Neglect – Neglect occurs when the caregiver fails to respond to the elderly person’s needs. It can be intentional or an act of careless behavior. Over half of all reported cases of elder abuse involve neglect.
- Financial Exploitation – Financial exploitation involves unauthorized use of money or property, such as theft of money or credit cards, forging checks, and changing names on property titles, bank accounts, insurance policies, and wills.
- Healthcare Fraud – Healthcare fraud is perpetrated by unethical doctors, nurses, hospital staff, and professional care providers by charging for non-existent healthcare services, overcharging or double-billing, kickbacks for prescribing medications, and medicaid fraud.
Elder abuse can be perpetrated in professional nursing home facilities and home care environments. Perpetrators can be nursing home caregivers or staff members, or family members or friends who are taking care of an elderly person at home. Most victims of elder abuse are women, although men are at risk. Likely targets are elderly adults who have chronic illnesses, disabilities, memory problems, and mobility problems. People with dementia or Alzheimer’s or people confined to a bed or wheelchair are especially vulnerable, because they don’t have the mental or physical capacity to fight back.
Many elderly adults in nursing homes and long-term care facilities have no family or friends to check up on them. This makes them especially vulnerable to all types of elder abuse and neglect. Family members and friends play an important role in the prevention of abuse and neglect, because many elderly people can’t speak up for themselves. Elderly adults in nursing homes, as well as home care environments, are often isolated from society, so signs of abuse and neglect can go unnoticed for long periods of time. When abuse occurs, each day that goes by without getting help can lead to serious injuries, and even death.
Elder abuse will not stop on its own. Someone must step in and provide help. Many elderly adults do not report abuse or neglect, even if they are able. Some fear retaliation from their abuser, while others fear the loss of help with essential daily tasks like standing, walking, eating, bathing, and dressing. When caregivers are an elder’s children, victims may blame themselves for their children’s abusive or negligent behaviors.
Elder abuse and neglect should be reported to the proper authorities who can investigate the situation and provide help. Adult Protective Services (APS) will investigate abuse cases and offer services and advice to abuse victims and family members. State organizations provide assistance with elder abuse prevention through various helplines and hotlines. A nursing home abuse attorney can file a personal injury lawsuit against perpetrators of abuse to recover damages for sustained injuries.