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Elder Abuse

QUESTION: What can you tell me about elder abuse?


The American Psychological Association1 says 2.1 million senior citizens are victims of emotional, physical, or psychological abuse each year. Although the elderly population is living a longer, fuller, and more productive existence than at any previous time in history, there are more people over the age of sixty-five living today than ever before. While many elderly men and women will continue to live unassisted, a significant number of them will eventually develop diseases associated with decline in health due to the aging process. These seniors will be forced to make their homes with adult children or be cared for in nursing facilities. Some of them will be at risk for elder abuse.

Surprisingly, significant elder abuse does not occur in the institutional setting but in families, where the stress associated with financial, emotional, and physical care becomes too difficult. Emotional abuse like screaming, threatening, and even neglect can occur as adult children or caregivers struggle with the enormous pressure associated with providing for aging seniors, who may themselves, be abusive due to dementia. Severe cases of abuse may include physical restraining, slapping, and even withholding food as a punishment for noncompliance. Sometimes abuse takes the form of financial exploitation.

Signs of elder abuse can be elusive, particularly if the abuse is restricted to emotional and mental forms of abuse. However, certain warning signs might indicate that a senior man or woman is experiencing this kind of abuse. These warning signs might include:
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Exhibiting feelings of worthlessness or powerlessness
  • Prolonged sadness
  • Refusing to eat
  • Signs of intimidation
  • Sudden uncontrollable bowel or bladder habits
  • Unwillingness to speak freely in the presence of the caregiver
Keep in mind, however, that most of these symptoms can also be indicators of other physical or mental health issues.

If you suspect emotional abuse, make yourself available and encourage the elderly person to talk about their life's circumstances. Physical signs of elder abuse are easier to detect and may include any of the following:
  • Frequent and unexplained bruises
  • Evidence of rope burns
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Skin abrasions
  • Non-responsive behavior that might suggest over or under medication
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Signs of malnourishment
  • Indications of living conditions that are ill kept or dirty
Any significant concerns about elder abuse should always be reported to the Adult Protective Agency in your state.2

Learn More About Caring For The Elderly

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