Elder Abuse - An Overview

What is Elder Abuse?

Millions of people are victims of elder abuse each year in the United States. Elder abuse encompasses any knowing, intentional, or negligent action by a caregiver or other person on an elderly individual that causes harm, or presents a serious risk of harm.

Often, people think of elder abuse as something that only occurs in nursing or long-term care facilities. While there are extreme cases of abuse that do occur in these institutions, the most common place in which abuse occurs is the home. Elders are abused by spouses, children, siblings, other relatives, or other individuals. It can happen to anyone, whether they are physically or mentally frail or are in good health.

What constitutes elder abuse?

Common forms of elder abuse include physical, emotional/psychological, and sexual abuse, as well as neglect and exploitation.

Physical Abuse – This is the infliction, or threat to inflict, physical harm or injury. Physical abuse may encompass hitting, shoving, punching, or slapping, as well as the use of unnecessary restraints, drugs, or isolation. Signs may be bruising, burns, lacerations, or broken bones.
Emotional/Psychological Abuse – Emotional abuse includes verbal or non-verbal actions that inflict mental agony, pain, or stress on an individual. Examples of verbal abuse include causing stress through yelling or threats, humiliation, or making degrading comments. Non-verbal emotional abuse may include unnecessary isolation, keeping people from seeing their friends or participating in activities, or intimidating elders. Signs of emotional/psychological abuse may be withdrawal, refusal to socialize, evasiveness, or unexplained fear or suspicion.
Sexual Abuse – This includes sexual harassment or any sort of non-consensual sexual act. Signs of sexual abuse may include bruised genital regions or breasts, bleeding genitals, or ripped or torn underwear.
Neglect – Neglect is the deprivation of basic necessities such as food, water, shelter, or protection. Signs of neglect may include weight loss, sunken eyes, extreme thirst, or lack of appropriate assistive devices.
Exploitation – Exploitation is the illegal use, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets belonging to elderly adults. Signs may include large amounts of money withdrawn without explanation, forged signatures on checks, missing property, or identity theft.

What causes elder abuse?

Elder abuse may be attributed to a number of different factors, and each case is different. However, common causes of elder abuse include, but are not limited to, lifelong domestic violence, mishandled stress, lack of knowledge on how to handle and care for elderly adults with extensive needs, or disrespect of adults.

What can I do about elder abuse?

If you suspect that someone you know or love is the victim of elder abuse, there are a few options that you can take. One of the first things you can do is approach the care facility or individual whom you suspect of abuse and speak to them about it. This may be something you can do independently, but also a tactic you may want to deploy with the assistance of a legal professional.

Another option to address elder abuse is to contact your local authorities or agencies. There are a number of agencies available to assist people when elder abuse is suspected.

Legal assistance may also be required to address elder abuse. Many cases require the assistance of a lawyer who is well-versed in the rights of elders and nursing home residents. A lawyer can guide you through the process and help you determine what the appropriate channels are to take when addressing elder abuse.

Elder abuse is a serious issue that should not go ignored. It is important to educate yourself about what elder abuse looks like, who might be responsible for it, and what you can do about it. The sooner you take action, the sooner it will stop. By taking action, the abuse should cease and the abusers can be held accountable for their actions. It is important to not let elder abuse go ignored.

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