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How to Spot Signs of Elder Abuse

Unfortunately, elder abuse affects senior citizens everywhere—and even some of the best care facilities aren’t immune.

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, “at least one in 10 community-dwelling older adults experienced some form of abuse in the prior year.” Sadly, elder abuse is also largely underreported because the victims may not be able to advocate on their own behalf or their families may be unaware of the abuse they’re suffering. And according to further statistics from the National Center on Elder Abuse, it’s thought that only one in 24 elder abuse cases are reported to authorities.

 As life expectancy rises across demographics, and as we continue to see more older adults living with debilitating diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, we can expect more of our older population to require nursing home or assisted living care. This also means more older adults will be at risk of elder abuse or neglect in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Familiarizing yourself with the signs of elder abuse will make you a better advocate for your older loved ones as you help them navigate their later years with comfort and dignity.

In this article we will cover the different types of elder abuse and its many signs, how to report elder abuse, and what to do if you suspect your elderly loved one is being neglected or abused. Having the assistance of an experienced elder abuse lawyer can help your loved one get the compensation and justice they deserve for the abuse they’ve suffered.

Types of Elder Abuse

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines elder abuse as “any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.” 

Elder abuse falls into several categories: 

  • Neglect
  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Financial abuse 

It’s important to familiarize yourself with each category so that you are better able to spot the signs of abuse in the elderly and feel more confident exploring options for addressing the wrongs they’ve suffered. Be aware that seniors may suffer from multiple types of abuse at once.

Neglect

Nursing home neglect occurs when a person does not receive proper care. This can vary widely, but it includes anything that causes a nursing home or assisted living facility resident to suffer undue hardships and restricts their access to adequate shelter, food, medical care, and protection. 

Some examples of neglect are failure to treat medical conditions or withholding medication, failure to provide enough food and water, and failure to assist residents with their personal hygiene, among other abuses. Nursing home residents may also suffer from social and emotional neglect, which occurs when they are ignored, left alone, or not given the opportunity to interact with friends, family, and other residents. 

It’s vital to seniors’ quality of life and continued well-being that they’re able to have a community because, according to a study from the ​​National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Physical

Physical abuse includes any act of physical harm—such as slapping, punching, bruising, choking, pinching, bleeding, or grabbing with unnecessary force—inflicted on another person. It also includes force-feeding, threatening someone with a weapon, and restraining a senior citizen, whether through physical or chemical means. Physical abuse is often the easiest type of elder abuse to spot.

Emotional

Emotional elder abuse includes any harm suffered by a person through verbal harassment, such as insults or shouting. According to a 2020 study from the World Health Organization (WHO), two out of every three nursing home staff members admitted to psychologically abusing residents. The study also found that emotional abuse is the most common kind of elder abuse. Although tougher to spot than physical abuse, emotional abuse can have detrimental effects on a senior citizen’s mental health, which can further deteriorate their physical health.

Sexual

Sexual abuse against the elderly includes non-consensual sexual contact of any kind. Seniors with mental and physical handicaps who are unable to communicate their consent are at a higher risk of experiencing sexual abuse. Sexual abuse can severely impact a senior’s physical and mental health.

Financial

Financial abuse, often referred to as exploitation, includes the theft, misuse, or concealment of money, assets, or other items of value from an older person. Financial abuse can take many forms, such as stealing an older person’s valuables, taking control of someone’s power of attorney, or using the person’s cash or credit cards. 

It can help to monitor your older loved ones’ bank accounts to ensure no unauthorized parties are accessing their financial resources, whether they be liquid cash, Social Security or retirement payouts, or stock portfolios.

Signs of Elder Abuse

Common elderly abuse signs include any unusual and drastic changes to a senior citizen’s mental, physical, or financial state. Signs of elder abuse vary among those affected, and a person may show signs of suffering from more than one type of abuse. 

Elder abuse can have dire consequences on older adults, so it’s important to know the signs of abuse. Knowing how to recognize nursing home abuse symptoms will help you to better protect your loved ones from harm. 

Signs of Neglect

  • Loss or lack of mobility
  • Poor hygiene
  • Psychological issues, such as anxiety and depression
  • Malnutrition and dehydration
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Unsanitary living conditions
  • Bedsores or pressure ulcers

Signs of Physical Abuse

  • Broken bones
  • Bruises and welts
  • Burns
  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Head injuries and concussions
  • Pressure marks and sores

Signs of Emotional Abuse

  • A hesitance to talk freely
  • Social isolation or withdrawing from others
  • Anger issues
  • Excessive anxiety or fear
  • Depression
  • Personality and behavioral changes
  • Low self-confidence

Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • An unexplained sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • Bruises on the thighs or genitals
  • Bleeding, pain, or irritation of the genitals
  • An inappropriate relationship between a caregiver and elder

Signs of Financial Abuse

  • Large sums of money missing from bank statements
  • The senior cannot access their financial records
  • The elder provides gifts or monetary reimbursement in exchange for companionship
  • A pattern of strange or unexplainable transactions

How to Report Elder Abuse or Neglect 

A senior citizen’s family or loved ones can help prevent elder abuse by educating themselves on the issue and researching a long-term care facility before placing a loved one there. Family members should remain in close contact with their older loved ones via phone or email, as well as through regular in-person visits.

If your loved one is naturally a more private person, it may be necessary to ask direct questions about their caregivers and the quality of care they’re receiving, as your loved one may not feel comfortable bringing up their abuse directly—if they are even aware that it’s happening. It’s also important to take accusations of elder abuse seriously and to take immediate action if your loved one reports experiencing abuse.

If you do suspect elder abuse, be sure to document it through pictures and a victim statement. It’s also a good idea to keep a log of any suspicious behavior or circumstances. Elder abuse should be reported as soon as possible. It is often underreported by those suffering from it, as they fear retaliation or being judged based on their mental/physical impairments. Reporting abuse to the proper authorities helps protect your loved ones—and others—from future harm.

There are state and federal laws in place to protect older adults from abuse. At the national level, the Elder Justice Act and the Nursing Home Reform Act protect and advocate for seniors and work to address elder abuse and neglect. 

Elder abuse can be reported to:

If it is an emergency, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Reach Out to a Bakersfield Elder Abuse Lawyer

If you believe your loved one is being abused, the Bakersfield elder abuse lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Clark can help. Our elder abuse attorneys will learn about your specific case and start an investigation. 

Let our kind lawyers here in Bakersfield help you or your loved one receive the compensation and care you deserve. Reach out to us today for a free consultation.

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