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Do You Know Someone Suffering From Elder Abuse?

For many, aging offers wisdom, insight and self-assuredness. Unfortunately, it can also come with some unwelcomed vulnerabilities. As relatives and friends get older, they can become physically frail, and less able to protect themselves or fight back. Plus, many older people have diminishing vision or hearing, making them readily susceptible for others to take advantage of them. Strangers are not the only ones to watch around the elderly. Even relatives can behave in unexpected ways because living with an elderly family member can cause overwhelming stress, with little relief in caring for them on a daily basis.  

To this end, many seniors are abused or neglected everyday -- harmed physically, emotionally or financially, often by the people responsible for their care. We suspect that millions of instances of elder abuse happen every year, with only a small percentage being reported. Elder abuse is an important social issue of which people need to be acutely aware, especially when dealing with older relatives and friends.  

Being in one's own residence does not guarantee safety. Elder abuse usually occurs where the senior resides -- most often in the home they have lived in for years. Surprisingly, abusers are most often adult children, grandchildren, spouses or other family members. However, abuse and neglect may also occur in institutional settings, including long-term care facilities. 

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Types of Elder Abuse

Physical Abuse 

Physical elder abuse is the non-accidental use of force resulting in pain, injury or impairment. Not only physical assaults, but also the inappropriate use of drugs, restraints or confinement should also be noted. Plus, just because of their age, do not assume the elderly cannot be victims of sexual abuse. Showing pornographic material, making them watch sex acts or making them undress unnecessarily are all forms of abuse. 
Loved ones should watch for warning signs, namely unexplained bruises, welts or scars, as well as broken bones, sprains or dislocations. Disorderly possessions, like broken glasses or furniture, may be signs of struggle. Also, think about checking prescriptions for any over- or under-dosing due to the caregiver; check dates on bottles to make sure they are current. If a caregiver refuses to let you visit with the senior outside of his or her presence, be on high alert.

Emotional Abuse 

Emotional elder abuse may be more difficult to detect, as there is no physical evidence. However, it can be equally damaging as physical abuse. In emotional abuse, caregivers communicate with the dependent in ways that cause emotional distress, including yelling, making threats, ridiculing or humiliating. In addition, ignoring, isolating or purposely frightening an elderly person are also forms of psychological abuse. The failure to fulfill a caretaking responsibility is the main cause of reported cases of elder abuse. Neglect can be intentional or unintentional, and based on several factors. Abuse is often due to the caregiver's ignorance of what proper care actually looks like. 

Warning signs of emotional abuse often fly under the radar because the abuser will, more than likely, behave differently around others. However, look for threatening, demeaning or controlling behavior from the caregiver. Sometimes, victims of emotional abuse exhibit behaviors that mimic dementia, including rocking, sucking or mumbling (even when the victim does not suffer from a memory disorder). Ask others about the caregiver's behavior and make unexpected visits, as a means to keep a watch on the emotional wellbeing of a senior family member or friend.  

Neglect often presents itself in more obvious ways. Look for unusual weight loss, untreated physical ailments (especially bed sores), unsanitary or unsafe living conditions, unsuitable clothing for weather or being un-bathed. All are significant warning signs, and big red flags to investigate further.  

Financial Abuse 

Many older people hand off their fiscal responsibilities to others, which makes sense because of all the fake charities, phone scams and investment frauds aimed at them. However, by doing so, it exposes them to the possibility of financial exploitation. Financial abuse is the unauthorized use of a senior's funds, including property, by a caregiver or scam artist. Exploitation includes misuse of personal checks, bank accounts or credit cards, including identity theft, forgery and stealing cash or household goods.

Disclosing the warning signs of financial abuse usually takes a bit of detective work. Watch for large withdrawals for the person's accounts, unexpected changes in their finances, missing cash from the household, unpaid bills and unnecessary goods or services. Also, keep tabs on wills, power of attorney, titles and insurance policies for any suspicious changes. For the bedridden, any ATM withdrawals that they could have not physically completed should be the catalyst for further investigation. 

Are you Suspicious of Elder Abuse? Report it! 

If you suspect an elderly person is being abused or neglected, speak up and seek assistance. Even if you are not related, ask yourself how you want your loved ones to be cared for and treated. Never assume that someone else is addressing the issue or that the victim is capable of getting help on his or her own. Know the warning signs, risk factors and prevention of elder abuse for the good of your family and friends, even yourself. (If you are the one being abused, tell someone you trust, whether it is a doctor, friend, neighbor or family member.)

We all get older, and someday we too will also rely on the genuine kindness of others for our care and wellbeing. Set the stage. Make sure the seniors in your life are getting the caring and compassion today that you want for yourself tomorrow.

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