June Is Elder Abuse Awareness Month

Published In Blog

June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month. The adult children of aging parents should make vigilant efforts all year to detect signs of abuse. Raising awareness includes learning how to identify those signs.

Older adults are often unwilling to share their concerns about abuse. If they have fallen for a financial scam, they might be ashamed to admit that they were victimized. If they are being physically abused by a relative, they might want to protect the family member from consequences. If they are being emotionally abused, they might feel they have done something to deserve harsh treatment.

Signs of Elder Abuse

By some estimates, only 1 in 24 cases of elder abuse are reported to authorities. In many cases, the only way to detect elder abuse is to look for it. Adult children and friends of seniors can protect their loved ones by being aware of signs that they are being abused.

Physical abuse. Evidence of physical abuse may be obvious. The cause of an injury may be less obvious. A senior who has bruising on her face might claim to have bumped into a door to avoid admitting that she was struck with a fist. A broken wrist might be a sign that she was grabbed and pulled. A broken hip might accurately be attributed to a fall, but the senior might conceal the fact that she fell because she was pushed.

One study suggests that a combination of signs might provide strong evidence of physical abuse. A fall-related injury that is accompanied by bruising in parts of the body that appear to be unrelated to the fall might trigger suspicions that the fall was not accidental. Injuries to the face that are not accompanied by injuries to the arms or legs can also be a sign that the injuries were not caused by a fall.

Some injuries are more likely than others to have been caused by abuse than others. The same study found that injuries to the cheek, neck, or ear are often associated with elder abuse.

Emotional abuse. Emotional abuse includes yelling at an older adult, belittling or insulting her, or threatening her with harm. More subtle acts of emotional abuse include preventing the senior from using a cellphone to stay in touch with her family, ignoring the senior when she makes a request, or preventing the senior from leaving her home or interacting socially with friends and family.

Evidence of emotional abuse is often indirect. A parent might be sad or withdrawn for no obvious reason. She might cower or avoid eye contact when her abuser enters the room. Making excuses to avoid contact with specific people or entering certain places is also potential evidence of emotional abuse. A parent who suddenly stops contacting family members might be the victim of emotional abuse.

A parent who manifests agitation or unexplained outbursts of anger might be sending a signal that she is being emotionally abused. While abuse victims may conceal their anger from their abusers, they often lose control of negative emotions when they are in the company of an adult child with whom they feel safe. More passive conduct, such as rocking in place or chewing on a finger, could also be the product of emotional abuse.

Financial abuse. Adult children may need to monitor a parent’s finances to detect signs of financial abuse. Credit card charges for merchandise the parent does not own could mean that someone is using the parent’s credit card without her knowledge. Large cash withdrawals or bank transfers may be evidence that the parent has been duped into helping someone who misappropriated a relative’s identity.

Seniors are particularly vulnerable when they have given a power of attorney to another person. While most people exercise their duties under a power of attorney responsibly, some take advantage of older adults to enrich themselves. Whenever a senior signs a power of attorney, another trusted person should be authorized to monitor the senior’s finances. 

Neglect. Older adults who live in nursing homes or other environments where they depend on caregivers may suffer from neglect. Signs of neglect include poor hygiene, rashes, unexplained weight loss, and dirty clothing. Bedsores and unexplained body pain are evidence that caretakers are not helping a bedridden patient change her position.

Responding to Elder Abuse

An adult child who fears that her parent is being abused should discuss those fears with the parent. While children might worry about seeming to be intrusive, direct questions about the cause of injuries, the source of her anger, or the purpose of cash withdrawals is the best way to detect or rule out elder abuse.

Physical abuse and financial scams should always be reported to the police. Adult children may need to make a plan with other siblings to deal with other forms of abuse. Changing caregivers or nursing homes could be the best response to emotional abuse or neglect.

Resources are available to help children deal with elder abuse. The Eldercare Locator will help children find local agencies that assist older adult victims of abuse. 

Leave a Reply