About 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 are victims of elder abuse, and only 1 in 14 cases are reported to the authorities. Seniors, particularly those in nursing homes, are more vulnerable to abuse because they are isolated from their loved ones. Many also suffer from mental impairments, like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Up to two million Americans over 65 have been injured, exploited or treated improperly by someone else, typically a caregiver.
Abuse can take on many forms: verbal, physical, financial and even sexual. It’s important to understand the signs of abuse, so the appropriate action can be taken to protect the victim.
1. Verbal or Emotional Abuse
Verbal or emotional abuse can be difficult to spot, particularly if the person has mental impairments or issues. In some cases, victims cannot express their feelings or talk about the abuse because of illness, fear or dementia.
Emotional abuse includes verbal insults and attacks as well as threats. Some abusers threaten to lock the victim away or threaten physical harm.
Verbal attacks can include yelling, screaming, saying hurtful things and using inappropriate language. Abusers will often isolate the victim, not allowing phone calls or visits, in order to hide the abuse.
Signs of verbal or emotional abuse include:
- Nervous or anxious behavior that worsens around the caregiver
- Forced isolation
- Low self-esteem
- Mood swings
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Doesn’t speak openly
2. Physical Abuse or Neglect
Neglect and physical abuse often go hand-in-hand, but victims may experience one or the other.
In about 60% of elder neglect and physical abuse cases, the abuser is a family member.
Physical abuse is easier to spot than some other forms of abuse, but can still be hidden underneath clothing. Unexplained injuries are the most common signs of physical elder abuse. Inconsistent and unlikely explanations for injuries are another sign of abuse.
Other signs include:
- Broken bones
- Pressure marks
- Unlikely explanations for injuries
Elder neglect is also common. Signs include:
- Unattended medical issues
- Unexplained weight loss
- Poor hygiene
- Dirty clothes
- Soiled adult diapers
3. Financial Exploitation
Seniors are a common victim of financial exploitation simply because they are viewed as being more vulnerable and often have a higher net worth than younger individuals.
Professional and family caregivers are both in a position to take advantage of a senior.
Signs of financial exploitation include:
- Unpaid bills
- Money that is unaccounted for
- More frequent cash withdrawals
- Unusual purchases
- Adding new people to credit cards and bank accounts
- More frequent use of credit cards
4. Sexual Abuse
While an uncomfortable scenario, elder sexual abuse is more common than you think. Seniors appear to be more vulnerable and viewed as being easy to overpower. In many cases, seniors are reluctant to report sexual abuse because they are dependent on others for their care.
Signs of sexual abuse can include:
- Bruises in the genital area or breasts
- Rectal or vaginal bleeding
- Difficulty standing or walking
- Withdrawn behavior
- Caregiver being flirtatious
Never take claims of sexual abuse lightly.