Elderly Abuse: Recongizing, Reporting, and Getting Help

Too often, the topic of elder abuse is ignored.  Locally, our organization receives requests for assistance at least once a month.  Many elderly adults are abused in their own homes, in relatives’ homes, and even in facilities responsible for their care. If you suspect an elderly person is at risk from a neglectful or overwhelmed caregiver, or being preyed upon financially, it’s important to speak up. Learn about the warning signs of elder abuse, what the risk factors are, and how you can prevent and report the problem.

As elders become more physically frail, they’re less able to stand up to bullying and or fight back if attacked. They may not see or hear as well or think as clearly as they used to, leaving openings for deceitful people to take advantage of them.

Each year hundreds of thousands of older persons are abused, neglected, and exploited. Many victims are people who are older, frail, and vulnerable and cannot help themselves and depend on others to meet most basic needs. Abusers of older adults are both women and men, and may be family members, friends, or “trusted others.”  In the U.S. alone, more than half a million reports of abuse against elderly Americans reach authorities every year, and millions more cases go unreported.

In general, 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. Legislatures in all 50 states have some form of elder abuse prevention laws.

Physical Abuse—use of force against an elderly person that result in physical pain, injury, or impairment. Such abuse includes not only physical assaults such as hitting or shoving but the inappropriate use of drugs, restraints, or confinement.

·       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— Verbal forms of emotional elder abuse include

  • Intimidation through yelling or threats

  • Humiliation and ridicule

  • Habitual blaming or scapegoating

             Nonverbal psychological elder abuse takes the form of:

  • Ignoring the elderly person

  • Isolating an elder from friends or activities

  • Terrorizing or menacing the elderly person

  • 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.

Healthcare fraud and abuse

  • Not providing healthcare, but charging for it

  • Overcharging or double-billing for medical care or services

  • Getting kickbacks for referrals to other providers or for prescribing certain drugs

  • Overmedicating or under-medicating

While one sign does not necessarily indicate abuse, some signs that there could be a problem are:

·       Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment.

·       Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression.

·       Bruises around breasts or genital area indicate sexual abuse.

·       Sudden changes in finances may be the result of exploitation.

·       Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are signs of possible neglect.

·       Behavior such as belittling, threats and other uses of power and control.

·       Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person.

Some signs may emerge as symptoms of dementia or signs of the person’s frailty - or caregivers may explain them to you that way. Some of the signs and symptoms of elder abuse do overlap with symptoms of mental deterioration, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss them on the caregiver’s say-so. Most importantly, be alert. The suffering is often in silence. If you notice changes in a senior’s personality or behavior, you should start to question what is going on.
Older adults can take these steps to prevent abuse:
  • Be socially active and avoid spending too much time alone. Being cut off from other people can put you at a higher risk of abuse. Keep in touch with family and friends.
  • If you are not happy with the care you are getting in your home, speak up. You have a right to change. This applies to all caregivers — even family.
  • If you live in a long-term care facility and are not happy with your care, speak up. If you do not have family members who can help, contact your state's Long-Term Care Ombudsman.(in Nevada: http://www.nvaging.net/ltc.htm
  • Plan for your own financial future with a trusted person or persons. Make sure that your finances are in order. It's also important to tell family, caregivers, and doctors your health care wishes.
What family members can do
Family members and friends who are not caregivers of the older adult can help to prevent abuse by:
  • Watching for warning signs that might signal abuse (bruising, soreness, agitation, fear, refusal to speak).
  • Making sure that the older adult is eating properly and taking required medications. A weakened older adult may not be able to think clearly about the care being given.
  • Gaining trust so that the older adult allows you more oversight in financial and caretaking matters.
  • Scanning bank accounts and credit card statements for unauthorized transactions.
  • Calling and visiting as often as you are able. Keep in contact.

To report suspected elder abuse, neglect, exploitation, isolation, and/or complaints to the Nevada Long Term Care Ombudsman Program please utilize these phone numbers:

§         Las Vegas/Clark County               (702) 486-6930

§         Statewide/All other areas             (888) 729-0571
§        Eldercare Locator website or calling 1-800-677-1116.

If an older person is in immediate danger,911 service should be contacted as soon as possible.

If you have been the victim of abuse, exploitation, or neglect, you are not alone. Many people care and can help. Please tell your doctor, a friend, or a family member you trust, or call the Eldercare Locator help line immediately. You can reach the Eldercare Locator by telephone at 1-800-677-1116. Specially trained operators will refer you to a local agency that can help. The Eldercare Locator is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

Any person may report an incident of abuse if they have reasonable cause to believe that an elderly person has been abused, neglected, exploited, or isolated. All information received as a result of a report is maintained as confidential.
Mandatory reporters must make the report immediately after the event, but no later than 24 hours after there is reason to believe that an elderly person has been abused, neglected, exploited, or isolated. Mandatory reporters include:
bulletMedical professionals
bulletEmployees of hospitals and home health agencies
bulletSocial workers
bulletLaw enforcement employees
bulletAdult or juvenile probation officers
bulletDepartment of Health and Human Services' employees
bulletMortuary or funeral home employees
bulletEmployees of the facilities providing care for older persons

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