What is Considered Elder Abuse and How Do You Stop It?

Elder abuse is something most people do not want to talk about, although it is a conversation that should be had. Senior abuse is common, and it affects a plethora of people in Canada, the United States and various other parts of the world. According to some government data, one in five Canadians believes they know a senior who may be experiencing some form of abuse.

Seniors from all walks of life could be impacted by elder abuse, which is defined as any deliberate action that results in harm, danger or distress to an older person. The abuse can come from nearly anyone who interacts with the senior, including caregivers, family members, friends, neighbors and even medical professionals. Other times, it could be a form of spousal abuse or domestic violence.

Knowing what is considered elder abuse and some of the most common signs associated with that abuse can help you stop it. If you suspect someone you know has been or could potentially be a victim of abuse, it is important to be proactive. Below are some things to help you know what to look for if you suspect abuse and steps you can take to prevent it.

Types of Abuse

Elder abuse can appear in many forms, and people most often associate it with physical abuse. Physical abuse, according to the Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, can occur if somebody hits or strikes an older adult or handles the person roughly, even if there is no visible injury. This abuse also could include punching, shoving, kicking, scratching, biting, pinching, burning and more.

Giving a person too much or too little medication, or physically restraining a person, are also forms of physical abuse, according to the CNPEA. Sexual abuse, such as rape, molestation and any other unwanted sexual contact, could be considered a form of physical abuse, although sexual abuse could include verbal threats or advances.

Psychological abuse also is another form of elder abuse. This abuse could include verbal threats, intimidation, belittling, humiliation, harassment, insults or disrespecting them. This type of abuse often is under reported, despite its serious effects. Financial exploitation, however, is the most reported type of elder abuse, and it includes any actions that decrease the financial worth of an older person without benefit to that person.

Neglect, which is any inaction that may result in harm to an older person, also is a form of abuse. This occurs when caregivers, family members or others responsible for care fail to perform their duties. In some cases, this could mean failing to provide medication, failing to provide sanitary or safe living conditions or failing to check on them.

According to the NCPEA, elderly people also could face systemic abuse, which is also called institutional abuse. This refers to rules, regulations, policies or social practices that are developed for neutral purposes, but harm or discriminate against older adults. An example is using physical restraints to prevent falls or using diapers rather than helping them use the restroom, according to the organization. This generally is more common among elderly people living in nursing homes or other aid-based facilities.

Abuse can be a single incident or it can become a repeated pattern of behaviour. Additionally, more than one type of abuse can occur at the same time. For example, if a person is being physically abused, there is a chance he or she also could be abused verbally. An abuser may not limit themselves to one type of abuse, especially if it occurs over a long period of time.

Signs of Abuse

Because the forms of abuse can vary, the signs of abuse can be wildly different. For physical abuse, the signs may be more obvious. You may be able to know if someone was abused if he or she has unexplained injuries such as bruises, sprains, fractures, burn marks, cuts or other outward physical injuries. Other times, it could be more complex, like internal injuries, illnesses or negative reactions to medications. Of course, these signs may not always indicate abuse.

Signs of psychological abuse could be similar to some associated with physical abuse. For instance, an elderly person could begin to show fear for his or her abuser if there is a level of psychological or physical abuse. Other times, they could become uninterested, unattached, disassociated or unwilling to be near the person.

When a person is taken advantage of in financial situations, it could be harder for family members or friends to notice if they do not have access to the person’s finances. In some cases, the family members themselves are the ones abusing the person. Missing checks, missing property, past due bills, overdrawn checking or savings accounts or forged checks all could be signs of financial abuse.

If a person is neglected, he or she could suffer mentally, physically and emotionally. The person could begin to feel unappreciated and unloved, making the neglect more than just a physical matter. General signs of neglect could include a lack necessary care, such as food, clean clothing, safe and sanitary shelter and health care needs. Physically, neglect could lead to dehydration, malnutrition and even bed sores.

How to Report Abuse

An appropriate response to abuse, neglect or the risk of abuse or neglect should respect the legal rights of the elderly adult, while addressing the need for support, assistance or

protection in practical and reasonable way, according to the British Columbia Law Institute.

If you suspect a person has been a victim of elder abuse or could potentially be a victim of elder abuse, you should tell someone you know who can help or you can call emergency services for assistance. When you call, you do not have to be able to prove that any abuse or neglect occurred. You simply have to show concern that abuse may be happening.

Do not be afraid of stepping into the situation if you think a person is legitimately in danger. You can use resources in your area to determine who may be the best person or agency to contact. This could vary depending on the person’s living situation, his or her relationship to the abuser and the severity of the possible abuse or neglect.

Preventing Elder Abuse

Sadly, not all cases and situations of elder abuse can be prevented. However, there are several things family members and friends can do to prevent elder abuse. If your loved one is living in a nursing home or other aid facility, you should be involved. Stop by to visit, meet with employees and other personnel and stay in touch with your loved one. Your presence and interest could be enough to keep them safe.

If they are living at home, you may want to be research any hired professional caregivers or other medical professionals involved with your loved one. You also could be aware of who they interact with, such as friends, neighbors and even other family members, but without disrespecting their privacy. Of course, you want to keep your loved one safe, but you need to remember they have a right to live their own life as they want. It may be best to let them know you want to protect them anyway they can and make sure they understand it.

About the Author

Sarah BlanchardSarah Blanchard is the marketing manager for Winburn Bequette, a nursing home abuse and neglect law firm representing clients in Arkansas and Missouri. Follow her on Google+.

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