Millions of older people are victims of abuse and we can help prevent it.
We MUST help prevent it!
June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2015 (WEAAD), a day established to spread that message.
The theme is One Person, One Action, One Nation United Against Elder Abuse.
This theme is so important to consider because it only takes one person to report abuse, stop abuse, or change the life of a senior who is a victim for the better!
Elder Abuse is a Big Problem
It is estimated that 5 million older adults in America are victims of some form of elder abuse either neglect, exploitation or abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, self-neglect, abandonment and financial) committed by those who are responsible for their care and well-being.
Unfortunately, the statistics represent just the tip of the iceberg, as for every case reported it is estimated twenty times as many are never reported.
Elder abuse in its many forms affects seniors at every age, walk of life, living situation, culture, race and socio-economic level.
Financial abuse is the most often reported problem and women or those over 80 are the most vulnerable.
Elder abuse can happen wherever a senior lives — in a senior’s own home, in a facility or even in the hospital.
Maybe the worst part is that the abuse is often perpetrated by someone in the family — someone who is loved and trusted by the victim!
Elder Abuse Beyond the Numbers
Seniors who are victims of abuse are at higher risk of premature death than those that have not been mistreated. This is a startling fact that should get everyone’s attention.
Seniors can be at greater risk of becoming a target of abuse if they exhibit these risk factors:
- Social isolation
- Mental health problems
- Substance abuse
- Poor health
There are more seniors affected by various forms of abuse than we realize because so often it is not reported to authorities. Why would seniors not tell people who can help?
- Many seniors fear telling someone about their abuse for fear it will continue or get worse.
- They are afraid the person who is abusing them will get into trouble if they talk about it, especially when it is someone in the family and/or the person who is their care provider.
- Many seniors are embarrassed that they allowed themselves to be victims and are ashamed.
- Some seniors may think that if they tell authorities about their abuse they will be forced to leave their home and be placed into a facility, especially if the abuser is their caregiver.
- Many seniors feel that they may be the cause of the abuse and feel guilty, so they will not tell anyone.
- Other seniors may not recognize that they were abused or be in denial.
- A large number of seniors are incapable of reporting their abuse due to dementia or other physical limitations.
Importance of Reporting Suspected Abuse
Because so many of our senior loved ones are unable or fearful of letting others know about their abuse so it can be stopped and the abuser punished, it is up to all of us to report any suspicions we have about seniors who may be in danger.
How do you spot abuse? There are some signs that could indicate there is a problem that you might observe. Sometimes signs will mirror those of dementia but should still be taken seriously and investigated.
- Bruising that does not have a known cause such as fall, bump or medication.
- Unexplained injuries, broken bones.
- Poor physical care, unclean, not shaved or teeth not clean. This could be caused by a person or the senior themselves (self-neglect). Unsanitary living conditions, bugs, lack of heat or running water. A drastic change in behavior can also be a sign.
- Weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration. Food and water not provided or used if available.
- Improper medication dosage with either overdose or failure to receive dosages.
- If your senior is withdrawn or pulls back from touch as if afraid of being struck.
- Finances being mismanaged, money or possessions missing, identity theft, changes in will or power of attorney.
- Broken glasses or dentures.
- Appearance of marks on wrists or ankles that might indicate restraint use.
- Caregiver won’t let you talk with the senior alone or visit alone or perhaps won’t let you visit at all. Caregiver substance abuse.
- Observing caregiver yell or threaten senior.
- Senior reverting to childlike behavior such as rocking, thumb sucking or mumbling.
- Evidence of sexual abuse such as soiled underclothes, bleeding, genital infections or STD.
- Leaving the senior alone at home or deserting them in public.
- If in a facility, duplicate billing, untrained staff, insufficient staff, crowding.
If you feel that someone you know and love is being abused, report it to adult protective services or police as soon as possible. If you think their life may be in danger, call 9-1-1. Be ready to give specific details of suspected abuse. It is not necessary for you to have evidence but information about your concerns so that officials can follow-up.
Don’t forget that just because your senior is not wearing fresh clothes every day at home or they don’t participate in everything the facility offers or they didn’t get their pills today doesn’t mean that someone is abusing them. They do have the right to refuse care if they choose.
When personal choice becomes self-neglect and an unsafe situation occurs, it will be time to take action.
Scams Target Elders
Seniors are prime targets for criminals who want to take their money or other possessions. Scams can happen to your senior via telephone, email, social media sites, in person, mail, or in public.
It is important to remind your seniors to take precautions to protect themselves from professional liars who want to scam them. Tell them not to give out personal information to anyone, never sign anything they don’t understand or before you help them, don’t let a stranger in the house, get bills online to stop a paper trail, their grandchildren won’t call for money and they probably didn’t win the sweepstakes.
Remember, an abuser may be someone your senior loved one — and you — know, love and trust.
If they think they might be a victim or you might suspect it after reviewing their financial situation, contact the police to report it. Scams happen to many people and they shouldn’t be embarrassed that they fell for it. They can help prevent someone else from being a victim if they tell police.
There will be several events planned around the country to increase awareness of elder abuse that you and your senior can attend to learn more. Be an advocate for seniors!
Take Action today!