As we get older, we often become mostly, or even entirely, dependent on others for our daily care. If we are surrounded by loving caregivers, this can go just fine. But in some cases, the elderly become a target for abuse. This abuse may be physical, such as hitting, slapping, or just handling an elderly person roughly. Sexual abuse may occur, either physically or by talking to an elder in a way that makes them feel violated. The abuse may be mental, as when someone degrades, insults, or threatens an elderly person. Neglecting care is another form of abuse. This includes elder abandonment, refusal to help with daily hygiene, and not getting a senior the support they need.
Elder abuse occurs most often in the home, by a caregiver who is well-known to the victim. But abuse also may occur in nursing homes and other institutions. It is important to know the signs of elder abuse.
Signs of elder abuse include:
This may present as depression, anxiety, or new self-soothing behaviors, such as rocking or talking to oneself. A loved one may ask you not to leave them alone or, conversely, ask you not to visit at all. They may seem more confused or withdrawn.
Bruises and other injuries.
Injures, including marks, burns, and sprains, that can’t be easily explained by normal life should always be a red flag. You might see finger marks, or marks from restraints around wrists or ankles. Or you might notice an increase in bedsores, which could indicate that an elderly person is being left in the same position for an extended period.
If an elderly person suddenly begins to look more bedraggled, this could be a sign of elder abuse and neglect. Their hair may be unclean and uncombed and their clothes may be stained. They may appear to have lost weight. They might develop sores and irritation due to inadequate hygiene, especially if they rely on others to change their undergarments.
Bedding should be changed regularly – daily if needed. No elder should lie in soiled bedding for any period of time; this is a sign of abuse and neglect. Dishes and leftover food should be cleared away several times a day. Garbage should be emptied regularly; overflowing trash containers or a smell of garbage indicate an unsanitary environment. If a senior lives alone and these signs are present, it is an indicator that they need more support and assistance.
Signs of sexual abuse.
Blood or staining on undergarments, or unexplained bleeding from the genital area could indicate sexual abuse. A senior may be afraid or embarrassed to tell you what is going on, even if you ask. Physical signs and changed behavior patterns are your clues that something is amiss.
Medications not being taken.
This might be harder to recognize, but try to keep track of when your loved one is due for a refill. Check if the contents of the pill bottle match up with the dates on the bottle. If the number of pills seems wrong, the senior may be over or under-medicated.
Signs of fraud.
In addition to physical, mental, or sexual abuse, some elders are abused in a different way – financially. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people out there who will take advantage of an elderly person who is lonely or confused. They might pose as an IRS agent and trick an elderly person into giving out their credit card information. They might befriend an elderly person, then talk them into giving them a “loan”. If you notice a change in your loved one’s bank accounts, you’ll need to follow up to make sure nothing untoward is going on. Also be suspicious if your loved one seems to have misplaced valuables or seems confused about their finances.
The stress of caring for an elderly relative can lead to caregiver burnout and symptoms of anxiety and depression. In some situations, this stress makes abusive behavior and neglect more likely to occur. If a caregiver has little support and doesn’t have a good relationship with the senior to begin with, abuse is more likely to occur. As a result, conditions like dementia can cause a senior to lash out and become difficult to deal with, further escalating the situation.
If you or another caregiver begins to feel resentful about caring for a senior, act right away. Get as many people caring for your loved one as possible. Consider an assisted living community or adult day program to take off some of the pressure and help your loved one get the care they need. The work of caring for an elderly person should never fall on just one person.