On June 15, we celebrate Elder Abuse Awareness Day. This day aims to focus global attention on the problem of physical, emotional and financial abuse of elders. At this time it is estimated that one in ten elders is abused in America. Millions of elder abuse cases go unreported each year in the United States with only roughly half a million cases actually being brought to the attention of authorities.
Elders do not report abuse for a number of reasons. As a generation, “Older Americans” are believed to be more vulnerable due to their emphasis on privacy, lack of technological knowledge and lack of overall suspicion. While this may not describe the seniors in your life, these are generational characterizations that encourages predators to focus on elders. Further, it is an unfortunate truth that the majority of elder abusers are close friends or family members.
Still, many of us do not know the signs of elder abuse or how to talk to the seniors in our life about it. Communication is critical. If you do not currently have a daily communication check-in with the seniors in your life, we encourage you to establish this today. Let us share a few key questions for you to have and use the next time you speak to or visit your elderly loved one.
1. Where did those bruises and cuts come from?
Unexplained physical injuries are one of the most common signs that your loved one is being abused by his or her caregiver. Any time your loved one has bruises, cuts, broken bones, signs of restraint or any symmetrical injury on two sides of the body, there is a red flag. Ask questions, talk to the general practice doctor to see if there are medical complications, and get help.
2. Is the caregiver refusing to allow me to see my loved one alone?
When caregivers are abusing elders, they oftentimes do not want other loved ones to be in the room with the elder alone. This is because it gives loved ones an undistracted chance to see any physical injuries or changes to the elder’s health or hygiene. It also fosters a culture of silence. If the caregiver is always in the room with you and your loved one, refuses to leave or is hesitant to leave you alone with the elder, there may be elder abuse at play.
3. Is my loved one displaying signs of dementia when he or she does not have the illness?
When an elder is being emotionally abused, he or she may often display signs of dementia as a way to cope with the threatening, belittling or controlling caregiver behavior. For example, your loved one may rock, suck on his or her thumb or mumble to themselves.
4. Are my elder’s living conditions less than satisfactory?
When a caregiver neglects basic levels of care, he or she is partaking in a form of elder abuse. This is an issue not limited to the role of the caregiver but also applies to the long-term care facility the elder may reside in. This type of abuse and neglect may include unsanitary or unsafe living conditions, leaving the elder dirty or unbathed, and untreated physical problems such as bedsores.
5. Have there been any suspicious or random changes to the elder’s finances?
Significant withdrawals from the elder’s accounts, sudden changes in his or her financial condition, valuable items missing from the house, unusual financial activity, and suspicious changes in estate planning documents can all be signs of financial exploitation. Do not wait to take action. Perpetrators who are trying to steal from the elderly often move quickly and are hard to recover the stolen money from.
6. Is the caregiver unusually angry and full of contempt for the elder?
Oftentimes, when a caregiver is frustrated at the elder it can signify caregiver burnout. Caregiver burnout is a very real condition that, when untreated, can put your loved one in harm’s way. Although the caregiver may not want to harm the senior that may be the outcome when this is not addressed. Always be on the lookout for elevated signs of annoyance, anger, frustration, and contempt in the caregiver.
7. Has the elder experienced unusual and rapid weight loss?
Weight loss, malnutrition and dehydration are all forms of elder neglect and are categorized as elder abuse. If your caregiver or the long-term care facility staff is not properly feeding the senior or providing nutrients and maintaining adequate levels of hydration, then they could be putting your loved one at risk. Address concerns like these immediately and seek medical advice.
While none of us want to contemplate a time when our senior loved one could be at risk or harmed by another, it is better to be proactive. Have a plan for how to check-in with your senior loved ones. If you live far away, develop a network of close-by friends and neighbors who can help you periodically check-in. If you have questions on this or any other elder law related issue, do not hesitate to contact us.