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Do You Know the Signs of Elder Abuse?

It is difficult to accept that those who nurtured, protected, and provided for us in our youth could be abused in their later years by the people who are supposed to care for them. Incomprehensible as it may seem, elder abuse is a significant form of human rights violation, and a real, existing evil in our current society, as reported by the National Center on Elder Abuse. We believe there needs to be greater public awareness of this social injustice inflicted upon individuals too frail to defend themselves. Greater awareness may help detect and prevent elder abuse and bring relief to elderly individuals who have had their rights and dignity taken away.

Aging can take its toll on the body and mind, leaving the elderly in a weakened physical and mental condition, vulnerable to abuse in various forms by unscrupulous and mentally unsound individuals. The University of California Irvine School of Medicine Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect has provided resources and materials to help raise public awareness and education on how to detect abuse and protect the elderly.

Various Forms of Elder Abuse

In today’s economic environment, both men and women must work for a living, leaving no one to stay home and care for the elderly. Per the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, private nursing homes are a growing industry. Sadly, nursing home abuse is also a growing concern. Nursing home residents all too often suffer abuse in various forms, including:

  • Refusal or failure to provide an elderly person with the necessities of life by those who have the responsibility to do so constitutes elder neglect. These life necessities include food, water, hygiene, clothing, medical care, shelter, and safety. Some signs of neglect are dehydration, lack of personal hygiene, untreated bed sores, unsanitary and unclean living conditions, hazardous living conditions, and the elder’s own report of mistreatment.
  • Physical Abuse. Physical force that causes pain or injury can take the form of shaking, slapping, kicking, pinching, striking, burning, and other types of physical violence. It can also take the form of overmedication, physical restraint, force-feeding, and physical punishment. Be alert for symptoms of physical abuse, such as bruises, lacerations, broken bones or fractures, cuts, punctures, burns, the elder’s report of abuse, changes in behavior, or the reluctance of the caregiver to allow the elder to be alone with visitors.
  • Sexual Abuse. Outrageous as it may seem, sexual abuse of the elderly does happen. Be alert to bruising around the breasts or genitals, venereal disease or genital infection, vaginal or anal bleeding, torn, stained, or bloody underclothing, and the elder’s report of sexual abuse.
  • Emotional Abuse. As there are no visible physical signs of emotional abuse, mistreatment of the elderly in this particular form can be more difficult to detect. It can involve threats, insults, humiliation, harassment, and isolation. Observe the elder for emotional distress, non-communicative and non-responsive behavior, and listen to any report from the elder concerning verbal or emotional mistreatment.

Financial Abuse of the Elderly

One type of elder abuse does not generally occur in nursing homes. According to a recent U.S. News & World Report article reporting on a study published by the Journal of General Medicine, as many as one in every 20 elderly U.S. citizens may be financially exploited. Shockingly, according to the article, this abuse most frequently occurs at the hands of the elders’ adult children, friends and family. Older people who are socially isolated and experiencing mental and physical decline are vulnerable to this type of abuse. There is hope that greater public awareness may result in more protection for the elderly from financial and other types of abuse.

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