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Preventing Abuse and Neglect of Seniors

Abuse of seniors is commonly referred to as elder abuse. Unfortunately, it is more common than you may think. According to the National Council on Aging, approximately one in ten Americans over the age of sixty have experienced elder abuse.

Abuse is often inflicted by someone who is known and trusted by the victim, such as adult children, a spouse, a friend, a paid caregiver, or a neighbor. It is usually someone that the older person depends on for food, shelter, personal care, companionship or transportation. There are different types of abuse including physical, financial, sexual, emotional, psychological and verbal. Neglect and self-neglect are also forms of abuse, as well as abandonment and inaction that causes harm to the person.

Physical abuse is any kind of physical assault such as slapping, hitting or kicking. It also includes physical confinement to a room, bed or chair, and rough handling. Financial abuse is forcing someone to sell their property or possessions, stealing money, using credit cards without permission, and misusing someone’s power of attorney or joint account. Sexual abuse is unwanted sexual comments or jokes, undesirable sexual contact or touch, or being forced into a relationship. Emotional and psychological abuse is yelling, intimidating, humiliating, insulting, threatening, ignoring or bullying an older person. It can also be withholding visits from family members or treating them like a child.

Abuse can happen to anyone including people who live alone, with family or in a nursing home. What are the signs and symptoms of abuse? Here are some of the signs to be aware of:

  • Depression or anxiety

  • Unexplained physical injuries including bruises, skin tears, pressure sores and broken bones

  • Weight loss or dehydration

  • Fear of a caregiver or desire to withdraw from someone

  • Low self-esteem or changes to personality

  • Inappropriate clothing or clothing that is dirty or in disrepair

  • Poor hygiene

  • Over-sedation

  • Missing items of value such as money, jewellery, or heirlooms

How can you prevent abuse of your loved one? Keep a close eye on them and visit often. Notice how they’re dressed, if the house is clean and if there is food in the fridge. If you live far away, be sure to have someone that you trust check on the person and call frequently. Ask questions and be aware if there are any changes in their mood, behavior or actions. Don’t ignore the signs and symptoms.

If you are a primary caregiver and feel stressed, ask for help and support. Plan for respite time and take breaks from your caregiving role. Unfortunately, abuse is more likely to happen when family become strained or go through a period of high stress.

As an older adult, you can learn how to protect yourself. Put your affairs in order and review your will periodically. Make sure your home is secure and be aware of internet or telephone scams. Do not accept phone calls from anyone asking for financial information or emergency help.

If you fear that someone is in immediate danger call 911. You can also contact Adult Protective Services if you suspect or see signs of abuse. Abuse of older adults is seldom reported because family or friends do not know who to call; do not want to interfere; fear they will damage relationships with other family members; and sometimes fear the abuser themselves.

There is no excuse for abuse! Help keep older adults safe by educating yourself and others. There are many organizations dedicated to preventing abuse of seniors including the National Center on Elder Abuse, Ageless Alliance, and Elder Financial Protection Network.

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