Elder Abuse

Each year,  thousands of older persons are abused, neglected, and exploited. Many victims are people who are older, frail, and vulnerable.

Some are unable to help themselves and depend on others to meet their most basic needs. Abusers of older adults are both women and men, and may even be family members, friends, or “trusted others.”

Generally speaking, elder abuse is a term referring to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.  All 50 states have passed some form of elder abuse prevention laws.  However these laws and definitions of the terms may vary considerably from state to state.

Broadly defined, abuse may be:

  • Physical Abuse – inflicting physical pain or injury on a senior, e.g. slapping, bruising, or restraining by physical or chemical means.
  • Sexual Abuse – non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
  • Neglect – the failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder.
  • Exploitation – the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit.
  • Emotional Abuse – inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts, e.g. humiliating, intimidating, or threatening.
  • Abandonment – desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
  • Self-neglect – characterized as the failure of a person to perform essential, self-care tasks and that such failure threatens his/her own health or safety.

Be aware of these signs:

One sign may not necessarily indicate abuse but indicate there may be a problem::

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, sudden change in alertness, unusual depression
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also signs.

Remember, this is often a silent and hidden problem compounded by the shame and mistrust associated with the issue.  Therefore, as caregivers and professionals we must be alert. If you notice changes in a senior’s personality or behavior, you should start to question what is going on.

Remember, it is not your role to verify that abuse is occurring, only to alert others of your suspicions.

Please visit the webpage What If I Suspect Abuse, Neglect, or Exploitation? to learn what you should do if you are concerned that someone you know is being abused.

~ Janet Pincu, MSW, LCSW, CALA