Caregivers of senior loved ones are wonderful people.
Unfortunately, not all those purporting to be in the role of caregiver really are — and too many seniors are suffering as a result.
We don’t want to think about it really, or even believe that this is true, but every year an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
Believe it, be angry and act!
In support of the Year of Elder Abuse Prevention (YEAP), sponsored by the Administration on Aging, we would like to discuss and hopefully increase awareness of the seriousness of the situation affecting so many of our older adults. It is happening even more than you may think possible and probably more than is reflected in the statistics.
The term elder abuse has broad meaning and includes situations, both unintentional and purposeful, performed by an individual or caregiver against a vulnerable older adult. It can happen to anyone, anywhere and anytime. The most frequent victims of elder abuse are those who are isolated, over 80 years old, dementia sufferers and women. Oftentimes elders are the prey of those with substance abuse or mental health problems.
Abuse Types and How to Spot Them
Understanding different types of abuse and their signs can make it easier to spot when it’s happening, either in loved ones or other seniors we encounter.
- Lack of food: not having enough nourishing food resulting in weight loss, not having access to food, consuming spoiled or contaminated food
- Lack of basic hygiene or appropriate clothing: not having ability or water to clean clothes, clothes that are ill fitting and in disrepair, lack of access to supplies or functional ability to receive daily grooming
- Lack of medical aids (e.g., glasses, walker, dentures, hearing aid, or medications)
- Person with dementia left unsupervised: risk for wandering away or causing harm to self
- Person confined in bed is left without care
- Home is cluttered, dirty, or in disrepair creating a situation of potential harm
- Home lacks adequate facilities (stove, refrigerator, heating and cooling, plumbing, or electricity) to satisfy activities of daily living
- Untreated bed sores or pressure ulcers
- Lack of affordable amenities and comforts in an elder’s home
- Giving uncharacteristically excessive gifts or financial reimbursement for needed care and companionship
- A caregiver has control of an elder’s money but fails to provide for the elder’s needs
- An older adult has signed property transfers (power of attorney or will, for example) but is unable to comprehend what the transaction means
- Theft of money or property
- Inadequately explained fractures, bruises, welts, cuts, sores, or burns
- Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
- Unexplained or uncharacteristic changes in behavior, such as withdrawal from normal activities, or unexplained changes in alertness
- Caregiver isolates the elder (doesn’t let anyone in the home or speak to the elder)
- Caregiver or individual is verbally aggressive or demeaning, controlling or uncaring
We should all be on the lookout for elder abuse in those who are most vulnerable. It may be a neighbor, friend or even a family member who needs your help. If you suspect an elder is being abused, please contact your local adult protective services agency.
Ways You Can Help
- Visit a home-bound senior and offer them assistance
- Attend an event near you and invite others to join to help raise awareness
- Volunteer with aging services in your area, including elder abuse support groups and community centers, or help homebound seniors with household tasks that are too much for them to manage
- Recognize adult protection services personnel who advocate for vulnerable seniors
- Let policy makers know the importance of services for vulnerable adults in your community
- Provide respite to caregivers in your area
- Learn more by visiting the website of the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA)
- Wear purple on June 15 – World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to show your support and increase visibility for the cause
We MUST protect our seniors and begin to break the silence surrounding elder abuse!