There are more than half a million reports of elder abuse in the United States every year according to state Adult Protective Service data. Some studies show that only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse are even reported to authorities. Impacts can be grave because elders who experience abuse are reported to have a 300% higher risk of death compared to those who do not experience abuse. Often, elderly adults are abused in their own homes and by their own relatives. Elder care abuse is a growing area of focus today and, as a provider of home health care services in Maryland, we believe it is important to educate those who are either receiving, or thinking about seeking, senior care to be able to recognize the signs.
One of the most disturbing aspects of elder care abuse is that it almost always involves a trusted relationship with the elderly person. Overwhelmed family caregivers can sometimes reach a breaking point and become neglectful in their duties or, even worse, begin preying on the very people they have pledged to support. In order to report elder care abuse, families first need to be able to identify the various types and warning signs.
This occurs when people treat elderly persons in ways that cause emotional pain or distress.
Sexual abuse against elderly persons is contact without the elder’s consent. This can involve physical sex acts and also showing them pornographic material, forcing them to watch sex acts, or forcing the elder to undress.
Neglect or abandonment by caregivers
Elder neglect, which is the failure to fulfill a caretaker obligation, represents more than 50% of all reported cases of elder abuse. Both intentional and unintentional neglect can be based on factors such as ignorance or denial that a patient requires a particular level of care.
Unauthorized use of an elder’s funds or property, resulting from misuse of their checking or credit card accounts, stealing cash or goods, forging an elder’s signature or stealing their identity.
Healthcare fraud and abuse
This is considered unethical treatment by doctors, nurses, hospital personnel, and other professional care providers such as charging for healthcare services but not providing it, overcharging for services, over-medicating or under-medicating an elder, getting kickbacks for referrals and Medicaid fraud.
There are several ways to spot these different types of elder abuse. For example, tension or arguments between the elderly person and their caregiver or changes in the elder’s personality or behavior. Unexplained bruises, welts, especially if they occur symmetrically on two sides of the body, broken bones, sprains, medication overdoses, broken glasses, signs of restraint such as marks on wrists and a caregiver’s refusal to allow family members to see an elder alone are all telltale signs of abuse.
There are several things you can do as a concerned friend or family member to help those who may be experiencing elder care abuse. Monitor the elder’s medications and ensure that the amount corresponds to the date of the prescription. Watch out for financial abuse by asking elders if you may see their bank accounts and credit card statements to review them for any unauthorized transactions. Try to call or visit elders as often as possible so that they know they have a trusted person they can confide in. Also, it’s a good idea to make offers to stay with elders so that caregivers can have a break if at all possible. And, of course, the most important thing you can do is to report any suspected abuse to the proper authorities.