The elderly in our societies are entitled to love, care and respect. They spent their lives contributing to building the communities that sustain us today and in their declining years need our support.

Unfortunately, some of our senior citizens are exposed to abuse by their caregivers and sometimes members of their own family.

Shame, fear and a desire to protect the abusive caregiver or loved one will lead the elder to remain silent about their abuse. If you suspect an elderly neighbour, or another senior in your community is being abused, this is what you should look for.

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse takes many forms. It involves the unintentional or wilful neglect or harm of the senior in question. It can happen once or be repeated over a period of time.

What types of elder abuse are there and what are the signs?

There are generally 5 types of elder abuse including:

Physical abuse: This is where the senior consistently displays unexplained signs of injury including bruises, cuts, broken bone and sprains. Personal items such as clothing and glasses may be damaged. They may also have rope burns showing signs of restraint. Caregivers may be reluctant to leave you alone with the senior

Emotional/Psychological abuse: The senior may be berated by the caregiver They may also be subject to obscenities or threats to their person. The elder may live in fear that these threats will be carried out if they don’t comply with what the caregiver wants.

Financial abuse/exploitation: Those with access to the elder’s money may withdraw it for their own use, or forge their signature to make purchases and apply for credit. The elderly are also subject to scams where they withdraw huge sums of money to give fake entities, such as charities.

Sexual abuse: This is the sexual exploitation of seniors. This often happens in institutions or homes. Signs to look for included bloody undergarments, sexual infections and injury to the genitals.

Elder neglect and self-neglect: This is where the senior is not receiving the level or quality of care they require. The caregiver may not be providing the seniors with the medication they need or may not be feeding them or keeping up with their personal hygiene, compounding any health problem they already have.

In elder self-neglect, the abuse is perpetrated by the elder themselves. Usually, there is a mental health issue behind this such as depression or dementia.

What causes elder abuse?

If the senior experienced the abuse in an institution or home, it is usually because standards are lax there, there is little oversight from the authorities or the caregivers are overworked and stressed.

Family members who are caregivers may also be stressed. They may be the only ones looking after the elderly relative, who may have significant health care issues and may be difficult to deal with. There may also be a history of domestic violence in the family.

While stress is no excuse for abusing the elderly, it may increase the possibility that the caregiver will lash out at some point.

Because some elderly persons are afflicted with a disease that affects their ability to reason, some people take advantage of this to steal money and property from them.

What can you do if you’ve identified elder abuse?

If a relative of yours has been abused at an institution or home, there are several options you can pursue on their behalf. You can contact a personal injury law firm like Hamparyan Personal Injury Lawyers San Diego who can assess the particulars of your case and tell you what action to take. If the lawyer you contact believes there is a case, you may end up suing the care facility and/or caregivers.

Most states also have a Long Term Care Ombudsman that you can report your concerns about the institution to.

If the elderly person is someone you are in casual contact with, like a neighbour, and you suspect abuse, you can contact:

Law enforcement – Sexual abuse in particular is a serious crime where the police will become involved. Several states also have legislation against elder abuse again requiring police involvement once reported.

State Adult Protection Services: Most states have an APS that you can call to report elder abuse and have it investigated.

Elder abuse is an unfortunate reality, but you are not powerless against it. There are things you can do to help the senior involved, whether it is a relative of yours or someone in your community. Your intervention may stop the abuse and maybe even save a life.

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