There are times when some older adults need assistance with situations that are abusive, neglectful, or exploitative. As family, friends, or professionals, we may see situations in which an older person seems to be pressured, influenced, or harmed by another. We may not have clarity on the situation and may not be sure what to do. It is better to act on a hunch than to do nothing at all.
Elder abuse can affect people of all ethnic backgrounds and social status and happens to both men and women. The National Center on Elder Abuse differentiates “domestic elder abuse” which is committed by someone with whom the older adult has a special relationship (e.g., spouse, friend, child or caregiver) from “institutional abuse” which occurs in a residential facility and is committed by “someone with a legal or contractual obligation to provide some element of care or protection.”
Signs of Abuse
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, while one sign does not necessarily indicate abuse, some indicators that there could be a problem are:
- 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 family are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse
- Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person
If you notice changes in personality, behavior or physical condition, you should start to question what is going on.
Types of Abuse
All suspected cases of abuse should be reported. Following are definitions of types of abuse:
- Physical Abuse – The use of force causing harm or pain to an individual, which includes but not limited to hitting, kicking, pinching, slapping, shoving, shaking, and burning. Other forms of physical abuse involve the inappropriate use of medication or physical restraints.
- Financial Abuse/Exploitation – Involves wrongfully taking or using an older adult’s funds or property through theft, scams, fraud, or predatory lending
- Psychological Abuse – Causes emotional pain through verbal assaults, threats, or harassment. Perpetrators intimidate, humiliate, or attempt to isolate their victims
- Sexual Abuse – Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind including contact with an individual unable to consent to such contact – for instance, if they suffer from dementia and are unable to understand
- Neglect – Failing to meet the needs of a dependent older adult or failing to provide necessities such as food, water, shelter, clothing or personal hygiene
- Self-Neglect – Involves failure of a person to meet vital self-care needs, putting them at risk of harm to their own safety and/or health
- Abandonment – The desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person
A report should be made as soon as there is reasonable cause to believe that an adult is in danger of harm or is in an emergency situation.
The local county Department of Social Services (DSS) has an Adult Protective Services (APS) program that exists to protect adults who are unable to protect their own interests and are at risk of immediate harm to themselves or to others. The program provides professional services to protect the health, safety and welfare of at-risk and older adults. All reports to the offices are screened and, when necessary, investigated. Assessments can lead to referral to community services to improve the person’s health, safety and welfare. In many cases, you can make a report anonymously.
An emergency may be any living condition that presents a risk of harm to the individual or to others. Reports may be made to the local DSS and should contain the following information:
- Name, age, and home address of the alleged vulnerable adult
- Name and home address of the person responsible for the care of the alleged vulnerable adult
- The whereabouts of the alleged vulnerable adult
- The nature and extent of the abuse, neglect, self-neglect, or exploitation of the alleged vulnerable adult, including information available to the reporter concerning previous injury possibly resulting from abuse, neglect, self-neglect or exploitation
- Any other information that would help to determine the cause of the suspected abuse, neglect, self-neglect, or exploitation.