Laws vary from state to state but, by definition, Elder Abuse is any act, intentional or negligent, that causes harm or serious risk of harm to a vulnerable elder.
Elder Abuse occurs when: someone physically abuses a vulnerable elder by causing physical pain or injury, or by depriving them of a basic need.
Elder Abuse occurs when: someone who has taken responsible for the care of a vulnerable elder abandons them.
Elder Abuse occurs when: someone inflicts mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder through verbal or nonverbal acts.
Elder Abuse occurs when: someone attempts non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an elder.
Elder Abuse occurs when: someone steals or misuses the funds, property, or assets of a vulnerable elder.
Elder Abuse occurs when: someone who is responsible for the care of a vulnerable elder refuses or fails to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection.
What factors make the elderly especially vulnerable to abuse?
- Isolation – Most seniors have either lost or are in the process of losing their social circles. They have fewer people to turn to for help and often feel disconnected from those contacts they still have.
- Physical Weakness – Most seniors are physically weak due to old age and illness. They are not as able to take action to defend themselves from abuse and are slower to recover from physical abuse.
- Cognitive Decline – Many seniors experience cognitive decline leaving them less able to recognize abuse and take action to care for themselves. Seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s are even more vulnerable.
What kind of monster would do such a thing?
Most of us have heard shocking stories of elders subjected to immense cruelty by those responsible for caring for them. These stories often feature a villain, a monster of a person motivated by rage, greed, or sadism. The alcoholic son-in-law who screamed obscenities, the daughter who gambled away all of dad’s savings, or the nursing home staff who enjoys brutally manhandling clients. These “villains” do exist and must be guarded against – but they are not the only perpetrators of elder abuse.
The fact is that if we’re only expecting a monster to be abusive we can overlook obvious signs of abuse committed by friends, family, or dedicated staff, decent well-meaning people who cross the line. How could decent well-meaning people do such things? Frustration, burnout, and desperation can also motivate Elder Abuse. The son who, already late for work, cursed out his dad for soiling himself again and who screamed that he wished he would just die already. The staff, the sole breadwinner for her family after her husband lost his job, who tricks her client into paying her twice so she can make ends meet. The husband who roughly shakes his wife, suffering from dementia, and knocks her to the floor breaking her hip. Even loving caregivers can push themselves too far and become abusive, often without even realizing the full implications of what they’re doing until its gone too far.
The most common perpetrators of elder abuse are family. Don’t make the mistake of refusing to recognize obvious signs of elder abuse until you see a monster; even loving caregivers can cross the line. Always act in the best interest of the victim. Stop the abuse. No excuses, no rationalizations, no justifications. Stop the abuse.
What are signs of Elder Abuse?
- Signs of Physical Abuse: Any type of unexplained injury.
- Signs of Neglect: Filth, pressure sores, malnutrition, dehydration.
- Signs of Emotional Abuse: Sudden unexplained changes in behavior. Difficult to determine in cases of dementia.
- Signs of Sexual Abuse: Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases and bruises around genital areas.
- Signs of Financial Abuse: Unexplained changes in finances, unexplained changes in wills or trusts, and loss of property.
What are some concrete steps Caregivers can take to avoid becoming abusive?
- Caregivers should: take care of their physical, mental, and financial health before accepting the responsibility of a caregiver.
- Caregivers should: seek help for personal problems that may impact the person they are caring for; some common problems are anger management, substance addiction, depression, and debt.
- Caregivers should: join support groups and invest in a supportive community.
- Caregivers should: share the burden so that it does not become overwhelming. Be realistic about their needs and limits.
How can Seniors protect themselves from Elder Abuse?
- Seniors should: plan for their own future by choosing a trustworthy power of attorney and writing a living will.
- Seniors should: consult someone they trust who has nothing to gain before signing any documents.
- Seniors should: stay connected with friends and family. Keep engaged in a supportive community.
- Seniors should: understand their legal rights and be proactive in defending them.
How to fight Elder Abuse?
- Watch for the signs of elder abuse, regardless of who the caregiver is.
- Report suspected elder abuse to local law enforcement.
- Proactively keep Seniors involved socially. Follow up on their well-being.
- Support and utilize local agencies like Meals on Wheels.