This is Part 1 in a two-part blog topic on Elder Abuse. Understanding the Causes of Elder Abuse is Part 2.
Most people are well aware of the topic child abuse and we have a protective instinct for these children since they are unable to defend or speak up for themselves. What is not so commonly recognized however, is the subject of elder abuse. If we think about it for just a moment we can quickly conclude that some of the aging population is just as vulnerable to physical and mental abuse as children are, unable to physically protect themselves or to ask someone for help. Whether the aging adult is being cared for by a family member, a caregiver, or in a facility, here are a few important things to know about elder abuse and what to do if you see or suspect it:
1. Physical Characteristics. Poor hygiene, unwashed clothes, bruising in unusual places (typical bruising is found on the extremities, while unusual bruising is usually found on the back and trunk of the body), untreated pressure sores, malnourishment and dehydration are all very obvious red flags. Abuse is not always physical; it can also be verbal and emotional which of course makes it much harder to identify.
2. Facility Characteristics. Unchanged linens, foul smells (feces and urine), dirty or unkempt facility, cafeteria smells from food and dishes being left out, the staff is unresponsive or slow to respond, refuses to hand over medical records, or shows little to no knowledge or concern about residents.
3. Risk Factors. Adults with these markers have a higher risk of experiencing abuse: low income, unemployment or retirement, poor health, prior experience with a traumatic event, and low levels of social support. Of course just because someone falls into one or all of these situations does not mean they will be abused. Research has found that these are simply common factors among the abused.
It is important to note that according to the National Institute of Justice, most cases of domestic abuse involve a family member, often the adult taking care of the parent, grandparent, etc. To read more about why this occurs and the specific types of abuse most commonly seen, click here.
What to Do. If you suspect elder abuse, be careful to document it. Write down any situations you have witnessed, suspicions you may have, or marks you have seen. If you are a family member, investigate further into the financial situation or offer to take over more of the caregiving responsibilities (at least for a time) so you can assess the situation more closely. If you aren’t sure and don’t want to accuse anyone, you may want to consider contacting Adult Protective Services and having a neutral party investigate on behalf of the aging adult. You can read this for more information.
This information was found on the National Institute of Justice website nij.gov. These statements have not been evaluated by a medical doctor and are meant to be informative. If you have questions regarding this topic or your health, always seek out your doctor.