Caring for Seniors: Recognizing Signs of Elder Abuse

Even if you aren’t her primary caregiver on a daily basis, there’s great responsibility associated with having a loved one who needs long-term care. One key in caring for seniors is to ensure that everyone in the senior’s life lives knows how to recognize and handle cases of abuse.

About one in 10 seniors have suffered physical or emotional abuse or neglect, and the numbers are even higher for financial abuse, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse. Seniors with dementia or other cognitive issues are at an increased risk. Their impairments may prevent them from recognizing inappropriate behaviors, leading to almost half suffering some type of abuse.

In some cases, abuse may be unintentional. Caregivers without the proper training or who are frustrated are more likely to exhibit unknowingly abusive behaviors. Whether the abuse is intentional or not, it’s important to recognize the issue and to ensure your loved one is being properly cared for by whomever is responsible for her health and well-being.

Signs of Physical Abuse
According to the Administration on Aging, abuse can be physical, neglectful, emotional, financial, and sexual. When you think of abuse, however, the first thing you probably think of is physical abuse. This is often the easiest to recognize. Broken bones, burns, bruises, and cuts with unclear explanations should be addressed by a doctor.

Signs of Neglectful Abuse

Another type of physical abuse is much more common, and not always intentional. It should, however, still be addressed with immediacy. This includes all types of neglect and abandonment, which can be recognized through such signs as dirty clothes, bedsores, unexplained weight loss, and soiled linens. Missing hearing aids, glasses, walkers, canes, and other assistive devices can also signal neglectful treatment. So can missed doses of medication and skipped medical appointments.

Signs of Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse by those responsible for caring for seniors is often hard to spot, but it can be just as harmful as physical abuse. Signs include being fearful of the caregiver, withdrawal, and forced isolation from family and friends. If you notice that your loved one’s caregiver is short-tempered, watch for these signs, or work to find someone who’s equipped to provide proper care.

Signs of Financial Abuse
Possibly the most common type of elder abuse is financial abuse. Signs to look for include checks that disappear or money that is unaccounted for, bills left unpaid, or unusual purchases charged to the older adult’s account. An increased use of credit cards or frequent ATM withdrawals may also be problematic. Caregivers or facility staff members who ask to be added to the senior’s checking or credit card account can be red flags that signal oncoming financial abuse.

What If I Suspect Abuse?
There are quality caregivers available in every area. Your loved one does not have to suffer abuse, neglect, or poor treatment. If you believe your loved one is in immediate danger, call 911. If the danger isn’t immediate, the National Center on Elder Abuse has a comprehensive list of resources, sorted by area. You can also call your local Adult Protective Services agency, or the local police nonemergency number.

Elder abuse is an issue in all communities and within all socioeconomic classes. It is up to friends, family members, and neighbors caring for seniors to ensure they get the help they need and deserve. Recognizing abuse and knowing how to address it are key to the health and safety of older adults.

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