Tens of thousands of seniors across the United States are being abused: harmed in some substantial way often people who are directly responsible for their care.
More than half a million reports of abuse against elderly Americans reach authorities every year, and millions more cases go unreported.
As elders become more physically frail, they’re less able to stand up to bullying and or fight back if attacked. They may not see or hear as well or think as clearly as they used to, leaving openings for unscrupulous people to take advantage of them. Mental or physical ailments may make them more trying companions for the people who live with them.
Elder abuse tends to take place where the senior lives: most often in the home where abusers are apt to be adult children; other family members such as grandchildren; or spouses/partners of elders. Institutional settings especially long-term care facilities can also be sources of elder abuse.
Sexual elder abuse is contact with an elderly person without the elder’s consent. Such contact can involve physical sex acts, but activities such as showing an elderly person pornographic material, forcing the person to watch sex acts, or forcing the elder to undress are also considered sexual elder abuse.
At first, you might not recognize or take seriously signs of elder abuse. They may appear to be symptoms of dementia or signs of the elderly person’s frailty — or caregivers may explain them to you that way. In fact, many of the signs and symptoms of elder abuse do overlap with symptoms of mental deterioration, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss them on the caregiver’s say-so.
The following are warning signs of some kind of elder abuse:
- Frequent arguments or tension between the caregiver and the elderly person
- Changes in personality or behavior in the elder
- Threatening, belittling, or controlling caregiver behavior that you witness
- Behavior from the elder that mimics dementia, such as rocking, sucking, or mumbling to oneself
- Bruises around breasts or genitals
- Unexplained venereal disease or genital infection
- Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding
- Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing
It’s difficult to take care of a senior when he or she has many different needs, and it’s difficult to be elderly when age brings with it infirmities and dependence. Both the demands of caregiving and the needs of the elder can create situations in which abuse is more likely to occur.
If you or someone you know is being abused, neglected, or exploited, tell at least one person. Tell your doctor, a friend, or a family member whom you trust. Other people care and can help you.
You can also call Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116.
The person who answers the phone will refer you to a local agency that can help. The Eldercare Locator answers the phone Monday through Friday, 9 am to 8 pm, Eastern Time.