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How to Identify & Prevent Elder Abuse

Seniors deserved to be cared for and treated with respect and dignity, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case.

Elder abuse affects hundreds of thousands of people every year, according to the Administration on Aging. The World Health Organization has described it as a “violation of human rights,” and an act that can cause isolation and despair in older people. Elder abuse can take many forms, and isn’t just physical. It can have an emotional toll on an older person and affect his or her sense of safety, well-being and interaction with others.

Seniors with dementia or thinking and memory issues, those who are isolated or have been in ongoing domestic violence relationships are particularly vulnerable to elder abuse. However, like anyone else, they deserve to have their human rights acknowledged and respected. Elder abuse is an ongoing problem, but it sometimes can be invisible. Whether it be emotional abuse, neglect or abandonment, elder abuse is real and should be stopped.

Here is some valuable information about how to identify and prevent it.

Types of Elder Abuse

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, people who commit elder abuse are often closest to the victim. They are someone an elderly person trusts, including family members, friends or service providers. Peers and strangers also can mistreat the elderly, but it is usually people who are in frequent and close contact with an older person that commit this act.

There are different types of elder abuse, including:

  • Neglect: When a caregiver or family member refuses to give a vulnerable elderly person food, health care, shelter or protection.
  • Exploitation: When someone takes advantage of an older person, especially financially. This can include illegally taking a senior’s property or money or hiding these assets from them, rendering them powerless and dependent on an abuser.
  • Emotional Abuse: When someone causes an older person mental pain or stress. This can include intentionally embarrassing, threatening or intimidating them.
  • Abandonment: A caregiver intentionally leaving a vulnerable elderly person alone and without any care.
  • Self Neglect: Some seniors also can disregard their own health and well-being. This happens when they don’t take their medications or seek treatment when they are sick. Poor hygiene and an unwillingness to provide healthy food and the right nutrition for oneself are also signs of self-neglect.

Warning Signs & Prevention

There are visible and not easily detectable warning signs of elder abuse, such as:

  • Bruises and marks
  • Emotional or physical withdrawal from normal and enjoyable activities
  • Threats and an unnecessary display of power by a caregiver or loved one
  • Unexplained changes to or disappearance of the older person’s financial and physical assets or belongings
  • Medical needs and treatment not properly handled or addressed at all

An older person who is experiencing abuse initially may not realize it, especially when there are no visible signs of it. They also may be afraid to report the abuse, out of fear that it will make the situation worse. Therefore, it’s so important to be hyper-vigilant about any potential warning signals. If you even suspect elder abuse or notice a slight change in a senior’s behavior, you should investigate it as soon as possible.

Important Resources

If you suspect elder abuse, you should call the Adult Protective Services (APS) agency in the state where the older person lives. The National Center on Elder Abuse has a very helpful section on its website that provides state-specific information.

If you’re a senior who has experienced abuse, it’s best to tell your doctor, a caring family member or a trusted friend. At MetroHealth, we’re focused on providing seniors with quality care at all ends of the health spectrum. We can help by referring you to a local agency who will work to make sure the abuse never happens again and that the abuser is held accountable.

If you have any questions about elder abuse, please feel free to contact our experienced and compassionate healthcare professionals.


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