What is Elder Abuse?
There are many different forms of elder abuse and according to a recent review article in the New England Journal of Medicine more than ten percent of the elderly population in the U.S. are victims of elder abuse in one or more forms. But, researchers believe the number of elderly being abused is likely much higher because the ten percent figure is based on self reported cases and as with any type of abuse the abusers often are adept at hiding it and victims are often afraid to report it for numerous reasons.
Elder abuse can be physical, psychological, sexual, or financial and can occur in private residences, nursing homes, or assisted living facilities. Because of the advanced age of the victims of elder abuse it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between accidental injuries and physical abuse, added to that the fact that many victims may be suffering from some form of diminished capacity or dementia making recognizing abuse more difficult for a family member or physician when the victim is in a nursing home or assisted living facility.
Elder abuse typically happens where the senior is living, most often it occurs at the hands of the seniors own adult children, grandchildren or other family member or spouse living in the same residence. Although less frequent, abusers are sometimes healthcare workers who have been hired to care for the elderly patient.
Definitions of the Types of Elder Abuse
Physical Abuse: Elder abuse is the physical injury, pain or harm intentionally inflicted to an elderly person by means of force, hitting, punching, shoving, pinching, and also includes the inappropriate use of restraints, isolation or confinement, or the improper use of medications either by withholding necessary medications or over medicating the patient. It may also include malnutrition, the withholding of proper food and drink.
Psychological Abuse: Psychological abuse may include yelling, screaming with physical intimidation. Ridiculing or humiliating an elderly person or continual/daily blaming or chastising an elder for things out of their control such as loss of bladder or bowel control. Another form of psychological abuse is ignoring the presence or needs of an elderly person. Such psychological abuse could be done by isolating an elderly person, preventing them from having contact with family members or friends, restricting their activities, or frightening an elderly person through intimidation or menacing behaviors.
Financial Abuse: There are numerous ways elderly people may be victims of theft or fraud, but typically it occurs through the fraudulent, unauthorized use of funds by a caregiver or family member. This would include use of the elderly person’s checks, bank account access, credit cards or ATM pin number, theft of cash, household goods or furnishings, jewelry, coins, stocks or bonds. It may also include identity theft. There are numerous tactics con artists use to target the elderly as well such as fake “prize awards” just as an example of some of the fraud against the elderly that you should watch out for.
Sexual Abuse: This form of elder abuse is defined as any contact of a sexual nature that is without consent from the elderly person. This contact would include any sexual act, touching, undressing, oral sex and intercourse, but is not limited to a sex act. It may also include sexual activities such as forcing an elder to watch sex acts, pornographic materials, or a caregiver undressing in front of an elder or undressing the elder are all considered sexual abuse of an elderly person.
Medicare or Medicaid Fraud: This type of elderly abuse may be at the hand of unethical healthcare providers and may include the following:
- Charging for healthcare services not provided, this could include; doctors services, nursing services, nurses aides, hospitals and out patient clinics, medical devices (not received).
- Double billing for medical services or tests or overcharging.
- Medicare or Medicaid fraud.
- Recommending fraudulent or nonexistent “cures” for illnesses.
- Prescribing unnecessary medications.
- Providing patient referrals to receive kickbacks from other doctors, laboratories, or drug manufacturers.
Warning Signs of Elder Abuse to Look For
It is often difficult to recognize elderly abuse because of their frailty and declining cognitive skills, but there are some definite warning signs you should be aware of and they are listed here below:
- Sudden change of personality in the elder, signs of fear, depression, rocking back and forth, mumbling to themselves, or in a dazed, confused state.
- Overt tension between the caregiver and the elderly patient. Demeaning or humiliating treatment by the caregiver to the elder in your presence.
- Unexplained injuries, bruises, cuts, or welts and particularly if the injuries are on both sides of the body.
- Signs of forced restraint, bruises around the wrists or ankles, rope or tether marks.
- Broken or missing eyeglasses.
- Broken bones, fractures or sprains.
- Caregiver controlling your visit with the elder, not allowing you to have alone time with the elder.
- Torn, bloody or stained under garments.
- Bruising in the breast or genital areas.
- Unnatural venereal diseases or genital infections.
- Sudden weight loss or dehydration.
- Poor hygiene, dirty clothing, unsanitary living conditions.
- Unsafe living conditions, no heat, no ventilation, water, or plumbing problems.
- Untreated medical problems cuts, scrapes, bed sores.
- Inappropriate coverings, blankets, clothes for the room temperature or weather.
- Elder being lost or left in a public place or in a vehicle unattended.
If you suspect an elder is a victim of abuse or of self-abuse contact your local elder abuse hotline or call the eldercare locator at 1-800-677-1116. If you suspect that an elder is being taken advantage of financially you should contact the police immediately, do not confront the offender.