Signs of Elder Abuse
Elder abuse is one of the most widely underreported crimes in America. Studies estimate that for every case of elder abuse that is reported, 24 additional cases go unreported. The victims of elder abuse often cannot speak up for various reasons, including fear and the physical inability to do so. This means it is up to family members and loved ones to notice the signs of elder abuse and say something. Learn some of the most common warning signs of different types of elder abuse to better keep your loved one safe.
What is Physical Elder Abuse?
The specific signs of elder abuse vary according to the type of abuse that the victim is suffering. Some senior citizens and nursing home residents experience only one type of abuse, while others experience two or more forms of abuse or neglect. Physical elder abuse refers to bodily harm inflicted against a senior citizen knowingly or intentionally, such as hitting or pushing a senior citizen. Common signs of physical elder abuse are:
- Frequent and unexplained injuries
- Frequent trips to the emergency room
- Bruising or welts, especially in hidden places
- Bite or burn marks
- Broken bones or other serious injuries
- Falls and hip fractures
- Head and brain injuries
- Unexplained weight loss
- Overall decline in health
- Unexpected death
If you become aware that your elderly loved one has suffered an injury, ask the caregiver or nursing home about the circumstances of the injury. Then, talk to your loved one’s doctor about what might have caused the type of injury. If the two stories don’t add up, this is a red flag for physical abuse. Ask your loved one how he or she is being treated, as well, and visit often to look for signs of physical injuries.
Can an Elder be a Victim of Psychological Abuse?
Psychological elder abuse refers to mental or emotional damage suffered by an older adult due to harm by an assailant such as screaming at, insulting, threatening, instilling fear in or verbally abusing the victim. Despite not being physical in nature, psychological abuse can have wide-ranging effects on a victim. Common signs of psychological abuse include:
- Depression or anxiety
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Other mental health conditions
- Fear of a certain person or caregiver
- Withdrawal from favorite people or activities
- Social isolation
- Reduced self-esteem
- Exacerbated cognitive conditions, such as dementia
- Unkempt appearance or poor personal hygiene
- Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
Talk to your elderly loved one often to check on how he or she is doing and feeling. If you notice any unexplained changes in his or her mood, behavior or personality, ask about the level of care your loved one is receiving. Always be prepared to believe a loved one who accuses a caregiver or nursing home staff member of psychological or verbal abuse.
What is Elder Sexual Abuse?
Elder sexual abuse is the crime of having sexual relations with an older adult who is in the perpetrator’s care, such as a nursing home staff member and resident. Sexual abuse can take many forms, from inappropriate touching and kissing to rape. A survivor of elder sexual abuse may exhibit the following signs:
- Injuries to the genitalia
- Pain or trouble walking
- Bloody or stained sheets or undergarments
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Bruising or welts on the upper thighs
- Signs of PTSD, such as nightmares
- Depression or anxiety
- Withdrawal from friends and loved ones
- Feelings of guilt or shame
- Reluctance to be alone with a caregiver
- Inappropriate relationships with caregivers
Older adults who suffer from physical or cognitive disabilities are at an increased risk of being targeted for sexual abuse. This crime can be committed by strangers or caregivers but has also been traced back to the victim’s friends and family members.
Can an Elder be Financially Exploited?
Elder financial abuse or exploitation refers to a perpetrator deceiving or taking advantage of an older adult for financial gain. It can involve simple to complex financial crimes, from health insurance fraud to tricking an elder into changing his or her will. Financial elder abuse may involve fraud, scams, deceit, coercion, threats or intimidation. Common signs of elder financial exploitation are:
- Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts
- Strange or unaccounted for transactions
- Large sums of money missing from bank statements
- Unnecessary purchases or home repairs
- Disappearing assets or personal belongings
- Checks made out to cash
- Large or expensive gifts given to caregivers
- Abrupt or unexpected changes to wills or estate plans
- The elder not having access to his or her financial records
Elder financial abuse can often go unnoticed, as it may not affect the victim’s physical or emotional health. It is important to keep an eye on a senior family member’s bank accounts and finances and to give financial responsibilities to a trusted financial expert or family member. Keep in mind, however, that a family member could be the perpetrator of elder financial abuse – especially if he or she is the elder’s caregiver and unemployed.
How Can You Identify Elder Neglect?
In addition to these forms of abuse, an older adult may suffer from caregiver neglect. This is the failure to accommodate a senior’s basic needs, such as food, water, shelter, medical care and companionship. Elder neglect can be intentional or unintentional. Leaving a vulnerable elderly individual alone for days or weeks is neglect, as is withholding food or medical treatments. Elder neglect can have serious consequences for a victim, with signs such as:
- Poor overall physical and emotional health
- Malnutrition or dehydration
- Lack of personal hygiene
- Unchanged adult diapers
- Dirty or unsanitary premises
- Unsafe or unacceptable living conditions
- Missing eyeglasses, hearing aids and other medical devices
- A lack of supervision by the caregiver
- Resident elopement at a nursing home facility
- Bedsores or pressure ulcers
- Infections or sepsis
- Wrongful death
Elder neglect can take place at a nursing home, long-term living facility, hospice or right at home. Check in with your loved one often to survey his or her living conditions, surroundings and level of care. If a caregiver or nursing home appears to be falling short of a reasonable level of care for your loved one, report it immediately to the authorities and take steps to protect your relative.
If you have reason to believe that your loved one is suffering from any type of elder abuse or neglect in Los Angeles, contact Rose, Klein & Marias, LLP for a free legal consultation.