Understanding Elder Abuse
Elderly abuse is on the rise. No one knows why exactly this type of abuse occurs, or how to stop it from occurring entirely.
However, there are various signs and risk factors of elder abuse that can help remedy the situation before irreversible damage has occurred. It’s extremely important to educate yourself and elders on what classifies as elder abuse, and the warnings signs.
The 7 Types of Elder Abuse
The National Center on Elder Abuse identifies seven kinds of abuse involving the elderly (1). These include:
1. Physical Abuse
Physical abuse of the elderly is defined as using some type of physical force on an elderly person that can be expected to cause bodily harm, ongoing impairment, or physical pain. This may include striking the individual with the hands or an object.
It can also include beating, shoving, pushing, biting, slapping, shaking, burning or kicking the victim. Physical abuse can also involve using drugs inappropriately, physical punishment, force-feeding the individual and using physical restraints.
Symptoms and signs of physical abuse include having the following:
- Broken bones
- Skull fractures
- Unexplained cuts
- Marks from ropes
- Open wounds
- Internal injuries or bleeding
- Evidence of giving too much or too little medication
- Broken eyeglasses
- Evidence of restraining devices
- The elderly person reports being slapped, hit, mistreated or kicked
- Sudden changes in the elderly person’s personality or behavior
- The refusal to have visitors see the senior alone
2. Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse of an elderly is defined as having non-consensual sex with an elder. Any type of sexual contact with someone who is unable to provide consent is also a form of sexual abuse. This can include unwanted touching, sexual assault, coerced nudity, sodomy, intercourse or taking pictures of the individual when they are nude.
Typical signs that an elderly person is being sexually abused include the following:
- Unexplained STDs
- Unexplained genital infections
- Bruises on the breasts or genitals
- Bleeding from the anus or vagina
- Underwear that is stained, bloody or torn
- A report by the elder that he or she is being sexually abused
3. Emotional or Psychological Abuse
Emotional abuse of an elder is defined as inflicting pain, anguish or distress by verbal or nonverbal means. This can include insulting the elder, engaging in verbal assaults, humiliating the elder, threatening the elder, intimidating the elder or harassment. During emotional abuse, the elderly person is often treated like a child and is isolated from activities they enjoy, friends or family. Emotional abuse can also involve giving the elderly person the “silent treatment” or keeping them socially isolated.
Symptoms and signs of emotional or psychological abuse include the following:
- The elder is not communicating, unresponsive or withdrawn
- The elder seems agitated or emotionally upset
- The elder has unusual behavior that mimics dementia
- A report from the senior indicating verbal or emotional maltreatment
4. Neglect of the Elderly
This is defined as refusing or failing to provide the elderly person with the care they need to live a comfortable life. It may also involve failing to care for the elder by someone who has obligations to give care to the elder. It can involve failing to pay for home healthcare services or failing to provide essential care to the patient.
Neglect of the elderly person usually means refusing or failing to provide the elder with the necessities of life, such as water, food, shelter, clothing, medicine, hygiene, personal safety or comfort that is required.
Symptoms and signs of neglect of the elderly include the following:
- Allowing the individual to live in unsanitary living conditions
- Allowing the individual to live with hazardous conditions like faulty wiring, lack of heat or lack of clean, running water
- Untreated bed sores
- Failing to treat health problems
- A report by the elderly person of mistreatment
5. Abandonment of the Elder
Abandonment of an elder is defined as deserting the senior by someone who has responsibilities for caring for the individual, or who has custody over them.
Signs and symptoms of abandonment of the elderly include the following:
- Deserting the senior at a public place, such as a shopping mall
- Deserting the senior at a nursing facility or hospital
- A report from the senior that he or she is being abandoned
6. Financial Abuse
Financial abuse of an elder is defined as illegally or improperly using the elderly person’s assets or other property. This may include forging their signature, taking cash from the elder, signing the elder’s checks, coercing the elderly person to sign a document they do not understand, stealing their possessions or money, and improperly using the benefits of being their power of attorney, guardian or conservator.
Symptoms and signs of financial exploitation of the elderly include the following:
- Including the caregiver’s name on an elderly person’s bank card
- Changes in the bank account or large amounts of money withdrawn
- Changes to legal documents, such as the will
- Using the elderly person’s ATM card without permission
- The disappearance of the elder’s possessions or funds
- Giving the elder substandard care when they can afford better care
- Finding forged signatures on titles or other financial transactions
- The elderly person reporting financial exploitation
- Providing unnecessary services
- Transferring assets to someone not in the family
- The reappearance of relatives who claim rights to the senior’s possessions or affairs
Self-neglect among elders is characterized by the elder engaging in behaviors that threaten their personal safety or health. It usually is seen when an older person refuses or fails to provide themselves with the proper amount of water, food, shelter, clothing, medications, hygiene and safety precautions. This does not include situations where the mentally-competent older person makes voluntary decisions to do things that threaten their health because of a personal choice.
Signs and symptoms of self-neglect include the following:
- Living in inadequate places or being homeless
- Failing to have or use medical aids like dentures, hearing aids and glasses
- Living in unsanitary living environments
- Living with faulty wiring, lack of plumbing or in unclean conditions
- Types of Elder Abuse in Domestic Settings. http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/Resources/Publication/docs/fact1.pdf. Accessed 3/16/2016.
- Types of abuse. http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/FAQ/Type_Abuse/index.aspx. Accessed 3/16/2016.