In the Washington Post, I read the latest details about actor Mickey Rooney suing his stepson among others for defrauding him of millions of dollars over the past decade. As unfortunate Mr. Rooney’s situation is, it is a reminder that elder abuse really can and does happen to anyone.
Elder abuse victims often live in silent desperation, fearing retaliation from their abusers. Many times, it takes the courage of a family member or loved one to take action and stop the abuse. Earlier this summer, Senior Community Centers staff shared information on recognizing and preventing elder abuse:
What is elder abuse?
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, “elder abuse refers to intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or “trusted” individual that causes (or potentially causes) harm to a vulnerable elder.” While California’s most prevalent areas of elder abuse are physical and emotional abuse, financial abuse, and abuse in long-term care facilities, there are many different types of elder abuse:
- Physical Abuse – Use of force to threaten or physically injure a vulnerable elder
- Emotional Abuse – Verbal attacks, threats, rejection, isolation, or belittling acts that cause (or could cause) mental anguish, pain, or distress to a senior
- Sexual Abuse – Sexual contact that is forced, tricked, threatened, or otherwise coerced upon a vulnerable elder, including anyone who is unable to grant consent
- Exploitation – Theft, fraud, misuse or neglect of authority, and use of undue influence as a lever to gain control over an older person’s money or property
- Neglect – A caregiver’s failure or refusal to provide for a vulnerable elder’s safety, physical, or emotional needs
- Abandonment – Desertion of a frail or vulnerable elder by anyone with a duty of care
Self-neglect among seniors is also considered elder abuse. If they are unable to take care of themselves which in turn creates living conditions which leads to (or may lead to) harm or endangerment. So while in this case the caregiver is not the perpetrator, it is important to realize when self-neglect occurs and that it is just as important to step in to improve the condition at hand.
Who is at risk?
Elder abuse can occur anywhere and affects seniors across all socio-economic groups, geographic locations, educational backgrounds and cultures. However, women and “older” elders are more likely to be victimized. Dementia and other mental health conditions are significant risk factors.
What are the warning signs of elder abuse?
Elder abuse often comes with physical and behavioral warning signs. Physical warning signs may include uncombed or matted hair, malnourishment or dehydration, and unexplained bruises or scratches. An elder may display behavioral warnings signs such as becoming withdrawn, helpless, angry or frightened. Elders may become depressed or withdrawn. It is also important to watch for signs of isolation. Be suspicious if an elder is not given the opportunity to speak freely or have contact with others without the caregiver being present.
What can I do to prevent elder abuse?
The first thing you can do to help prevent elder abuse is to be aware of the possibility of abuse. Look for warnings signs and ask others to do the same. Keep in contact with your older friends, neighbors and relatives. Maintaining consistent communication helps decrease isolation, often a risk factor for mistreatment. Report suspected mistreatment to your local law enforcement or adult protective services agency.
What should I do if I suspect elder abuse?
Reporting elder abuse is simple. Every county has its own Adult Protective Services agency (APS) which provides assistance to elderly and adults who are functionally impaired, and who are possible victims of abuse, exploitation, or neglect. To report suspected abuse in the community, contact your local APS.
If you are someone you know is in a life-threatening situation, or in immediate danger, call 911 or contact your local police or sheriff.
It is every person’s responsibility to report suspected cases of elder abuse. When in doubt, always err on the side of caution. If you suspect abuse, report it. You do not need to prove that abuse is occurring. It is up to the professionals to investigate the reported abuse.