Elder abuse can be easily misdiagnosed or confused with one or more of the natural signs of aging, including mental deterioration and/or ailments such as dementia. In effect, many cases of elder abuse go unreported every year. In the US alone, between one and two million men and women aged 65+ have suffered from elder abuse, though it’s expected that millions more are going unreported.
As with the abuse of any other age- or gender-specific group, elder abuse is not always physical. The abuse can be emotional. It can be sexual. It can be neglect. It can even be exploitation for money, or blackmailing.
In a large majority of cases, the abusive party is usually a caretaker, a family member, or a spouse of the abused, and the incidents occur at the elder’s place of residence. One study showed that 90 percent of all offending abusers were members of the victims family, while another showed that roughly 95% in a nursing home setting had claimed that they, or that somebody they know, had been a victim of neglect.
It’s said that for every elder abuse case that is brought to light, twenty-three others stay in the dark. It is up to the watchful eye to identify elder abuse, because all too often the victim will have trouble communicating that something is wrong. This is especially true for those that suffer from dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease, as they are easily confused and/or manipulated, and can quite simply forget what happened.
Along with the elderly that suffer from mental afflictions, disabled women (who tend more often to be victims of sexual assault) and highly dependent elders are also more at risk for abuse than any other elderly group.
Physical abuse is the easiest form of elder abuse to identify, simply based on the fact that marks such as bruising will be left. Check for clustered patterns on both sides of the body, or for welts that look like they may have stemmed from restraints. On top of that, look for the emotional signs that accompany physical abuse. Cringing, flinching, and the avoidance of physical touch are changes in behavior that can all be telling signs.
Emotional abuse is not as easy to identify as physical abuse, especially without seeing the elderly interacting with their care-giver. If the caregiver exhibits hostile, manipulative, or demeaning behavior, they may be chronically emotionally abusive. If you don’t catch these interactions, look for changes in the cared-for’s behavior equivalent to rocking, mumbling, or sucking. The difficulty in identifying is that these are signs related to dementia—but that doesn’t mean they should be completely discredited or written off.
Neglect can occur for a number of reasons, including that their live-in facility might be understaffed, or that the caregiver simply doesn’t know that the individual requires more care. Whatever the reason, neglect is never acceptable, and should be identified by warning signs such as weight loss from dehydration or malnutrition, unclean bedding or clothing, and physical problems that are left untreated, such as bed sores.
If you live near or work with elderly family members, listen to them and check their behaviors against those above. Look for changes in behavior and stay in contact with immediate care-givers. Monitor medication and dosages, and check in with elders and elderly family members from time to time to make sure they aren’t constantly alone.
If you or anybody you know has witnessed or seriously suspects the occurrence of elder abuse, contact your local authorities immediately.
About the Author:
Sofia Francis is a recent law school graduate currently working with the San Bernardino based personal injury law firm Welebir, Tierney and Weck. Sofia plans to pursue a career in personal injury law but is currently focused on passing the bar and gaining experience in her field.