Elder abuse exists and, unfortunately, is a growing problem. Elder abuse is defined as any act or treatment that results in the harm or loss of life of an older person. Elder abuse can be enacted by family members, friends, neighbors or professional caregivers. According to U.S. Department of Justice figures, an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse every year. Elder abuse can take many forms, physical, psychological, sexual, financial or neglect. All forms of elder abuse are to be taken seriously, and most are on the rise. The toll elder abuse takes on the elderly in terms of loss of dignity, health, savings, homes, security and independence is immeasurable. Victims of elder abuse have been shown to have shorter life expectancies than nonabused seniors.
Recognizing physical elder abuse
Physical abuse of the elderly is all too common. You might think it is the easiest to spot, but not necessarily. Many of the signs of elder abuse, even physical elder abuse, mimic “normal” conditions of aging, and abusers often capitalize on this. For example unexplained bruises are easily dismissed as seniors' tendencies to slip and fall or bruise easily.
- Unexplained bruises or marks
- Unexplained burns
- Lacerations (cuts)
- Abdominal injuries
- Bite marks
- Bruises on the head
- Unbelievable explanations for injuries
- Reports of drug overdose, or if it appears that there is more of a prescription drug left over than there should be
- Broken glasses or frames
- Signs of restraints having been used, such as marks on wrists or ankles
- A caregiver’s refusal to let you see the elder in private
In addition to the physical signs noted above, there are general signs to look for that can be present in any type of abuse, including physical elder abuse such as:
- Constant arguments or heightened tension between an elderly person and his or her caregiver
- Changes in behavior or personality of the elder
Always keep in mind that the signs of elder abuse should be taken seriously and not dismissed as false accusations by a “confused older person.” It is true that the signs and symptoms of elder abuse can and do resemble symptoms of mental deterioration, but that doesn’t mean you should not take such claims in earnest or reject them at the caregiver’s word.
By learning the warning signs of elder abuse and how to act to protect a senior who is being victimized, you are not only helping a person in distress, but also strengthening your own defenses against elder abuse to yourself or your loved ones.