Within the ER, Elder Abuse Often Goes Unnoticed

Have you ever been concerned that a loved one you know is being abused? Have there been any signs or abnormalities that have caused you to wonder how safe and healthy an elderly individual is based on their ongoing state? Well, according to a new study, more often than not, elder abuse is not being ‘caught’ within the emergency department.

According to a recent study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, approximately 10 percent of seniors are victims of elder abuse, yet this issue is not generally recognized within hospital emergency rooms. It appears that far too many elderly individuals pass through these hospitals without the acknowledgment of abuse.

So, how often is abuse recognized?

Based on national data, only 1 in 7,700 cases are formally diagnosed by an emergency doctor. That’s tough to hear, especially when victims of elder abuse do not generally receive routine care from a primary physician — which is why they often rely on the emergency department.

Across the United States, 23 million seniors visit emergency departments on an annual basis. Regarding abuse, this appears as though it would be the perfect environment to identify the issue of elder abuse. You would think that after noticing any abnormalities, there would be steps taken to ensure that individual was safe and that their needs were being met.

Unfortunately, as we see from these shocking statistics, that’s simply not the case. Although it appears that there’s a degree of neglect within the healthcare system, it’s important to note that abuse can be difficult to identify in certain cases. If there is one singular bruise in sight, this could, of course, be from a fall instead of abuse. The same is true for poor hygiene — it could be based on choice or neglect.

At the end of the day, for those who are impaired, either mentally or physically, it’s clear that they cannot fully care for themselves. If there are any red flags, concerns should be addressed to verify the well-being of the patient.

After all, just because elderly abuse can be hard to recognize, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s common. This level of abuse can take a substantial toll on these elderly individuals, causing their emotional, social, mental, and/or physical state to deteriorate. Yet sadly, it is frequently missed.

What Should I Look For?

Perhaps you have noticed something odd regarding your elderly neighbour or friend. Whether the individual lives alone or receives care, it’s important to recognize signs that point to potential abuse. Of course, not all abnormalities will be the result of abuse, but if there is anything concerning with their health or otherwise, bringing it to the attention of another is encouraged.

Sadly, more often than not, elder abuse occurs within the senior’s home, where the abusers are often their adult children or other family members, including a spouse or grandchildren.

When it comes to potential warning signs, a bruise isn’t the only sign of abuse — in fact, it’s not the only type of abuse. Although incidents can most certainly be physical, abuse can also be emotional, sexual, or even result in neglect or financial exploitation. Based on all types, be aware of the following:

  • Unexplained injuries — scars, bruises, recent sprains, or broken bone
  • Issues with their medication, either an overdose or failure to take their required dose
  • Signs that the individual has been restrained, which are often seen on their wrists
  • A caregiver that appears to be controlling, threatening, and belittling
  • Refusal to go into the home — generally a caregiver will not allow others to visit the elder individual alone
  • The elder individual showcasing signs of dementia, such as rocking or mumbling
  • Unusual weight loss or signs of dehydration
  • Signs of poor living conditions, including bugs, dirty clothing, and a lack of bathing
  • Red flags regarding finances — items going missing, changes to the will, unpaid medical bills (even the elderly individual has enough to cover their expenses)

At the end of the day, trust your gut when something appears to be abnormal, then take the right course of action. Either contact a family member or friend you trust or an individual within an authority position. Also, if you see the abuse first hand, do not assume that others are reporting the incident.

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