Help Prevent Elder Abuse: Learn the Warning Signs
June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. This day us meant for bringing awareness to the abuse, neglect and financial exploitation that many older adults incur.
Elder abuse is the mistreatment of an older person committed by someone whom that person trusts, such as a spouse, partner, family member, friend, professional advisor or caregiver. It knows no boundaries. Elder abuse affects both men and women, and crosses all cultural, racial, socioeconomic, religious and ethnic lines. It occurs in both urban and rural communities and in private homes and care facilities. And as the number of older adults increases, incidences of abuse are rising. Elder abuse is a silent crime. It happens typically behind closed doors and oftentimes goes unreported.
Sadly, elder abuse is much more common than you would think. It is not a new problem. As we are becoming more aware of the vulnerabilities of older adults, there is a growing need to educate people on how to recognize abuse and what to do if they suspect it.
The key to elder abuse prevention and ending ongoing abuse is the ability to recognize the warning signs combined with the willingness to step up and report what you suspect.
Elder Abuse Facts
Courtesy of the National Council on Aging
What is elder abuse?
Elder abuse is defined as physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, willful deprivation or abandonment of an adult who is age 60 or older.
How many older Americans are abused?
It is estimated that up to 5 million older Americans are abused each year.
Who are the abusers?
Sixty percent of elder abuse is committed by a family member. Two-thirds of these family members are either an adult child or the spouse.
What makes an older adult vulnerable to abuse?
Any older adult is susceptible to abuse, neglect or financial exploitation. Social isolation and cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia are high risk factors.
What are the warning signs of elder abuse?
- Broken bones or fractures
- Poor physical appearance and lack of cleanliness
- Changes in mental status (withdrawal from normal activities, unusual depression)
- Frequent infections
- Bruising, welts or cuts, burns, pressure marks, bedsores
- Unexplained weight loss
- Appears frightened or withdrawn
- Refusal to speak
- Signs of dehydration
- Loss of bowel and bladder control
- Sudden changes in financial situation
- Missing personal belongings such as art, silverware, jewelry, TV
- Unpaid bills, such as house payment, rent, taxes, utilities
What are the risk factors that an older person will be a victim of elder abuse?
- Someone with cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia
- Someone who has a history of mental illness
- Someone who has physical disabilities
- Someone who is depressed, lonely or lacks social support
- Someone who abuses alcohol or drugs
- Someone who is verbally or physically combative with the caregiver
- Someone who has a shared living situation
- Someone who has a criminal history
What are the indicators that a caregiver could become an abuser?
- Someone who feels overwhelmed or resentful
- Someone who has a history of substance abuse
- Someone who has a history of abuse toward others
- Someone who is dependent on the older person for housing, finances or other needs
- Someone with mental health problems
- Someone who is unemployed/underemployed
- Someone with a criminal history
How does a person make an elder abuse report?
Kentucky is a mandatory reporting state, meaning that anyone having reasonable cause to suspect abuse, neglect or financial exploitation has a responsibility to report it. To report suspected abuse in your community, contact your local Adult Protective Services (APS) agency. To reach the Kentucky APS Abuse Hotline, call 1-800-752-6200 or 1-877-597-2331. Reports are confidential and can be made anonymously.
To report suspected abuse in a nursing home or long-term care facility, contact your local Long-term Care Ombudsman at 1-800-372-2991.
For more information, please visit the Bluegrass Elder Abuse Prevention Council website.
It shouldn’t take assigning a month and a day to remind us to step up, take action and report if we suspect someone is being abused, neglected or financially exploited. The day’s designation is one way to raise awareness and get the conversation started about the increase of elder abuse worldwide.