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What is Elder Abuse?
Was your loved one the victim of elder abuse at the hands of their adult children, family caregivers, or long-term care facility? At the Nursing Home Law Center, our nursing home abuse attorneys are legal advocates for elderly residents, the disabled, and those with dementia living at home and in nursing homes.
Call our legal team at (800) 926-7565 (toll-free phone number) or use the contact form today to schedule a free consultation to investigate your legal options.
Elder abuse is a serious social problem in the United States. In 2013, three million older adults were victims of elder abuse. The abuse can be physical, emotional, mental, psychological, or financial, impacting the victim’s quality of life.
There are many different types of elder abuse. Still, neglect may not be as well known to some people - it refers to withholding necessary care from an older adult by someone entrusted with their care or supervision (often some in the family).
Neglect can happen in any setting where an adult lives and includes:
- Failing to provide them with appropriate food, clothing, or shelter
- Leaving them without needed medical care or health care
- Ignoring their cognitive health needs
- Preventing access to transportation for doctor visits or shopping
Sadly, seniors can become victims of elder abuse in six ways, including:
- Physical Abuse: This abuse is defined as any non-accidental use of force against an older adult by a caregiver or another person who, through their actions, makes the elderly person believe that they may be at risk of getting hurt from hitting, punching, kicking, shoving, or burning.
- Sexual Assault: The elderly, especially those with severe memory loss and the frail, are susceptible to sexual abuse, mainly by a caregiver taking advantage of the older person’s vulnerability.
- Verbal or Emotional Abuse: Any psychological mistreatment or humiliation can qualify as emotional abuse. The abusers may yell at or insult the victim, humiliate them in front of others, threaten to place the older adult in an institution, teasing them, resulting in verbal or emotional abuse.
- Mental abuse: Caregivers’ behaviors can cause an older adult to fear their safety or the safety of someone they love. In some cases, abuse can also include denying medication or a medical procedure a physician has recommended, leading to physical harm and mental pain, resulting in cognitive impairment.
- Psychological abuse: This type of abuse is often difficult to recognize as a form of abuse, mainly because many people associate psychological torment with more traditional physical mistreatment. Psychological or emotional abuse can take the form of threats, isolation from loved ones, withholding needed medications, or subjecting them to wandering in their home.
- Financial Abuse: Financial exploitation is one of the most common types of abuse. A caregiver could steal money, property, or other assets from older adults with impaired cognitive and physical abilities. Some examples include taking Social Security payments, stealing a checkbook, or using credit cards without the consent of the senior under their care.
In many cases, neglect can lead to financial exploitation because the older adult may not fully understand financial arrangements. As a result, thieves often target older people who have accumulated a lifetime of savings and assets.
The thief may try to take the victim’s money or property by deception, force, or intimidation.
Family members and friends need to watch for any physical signs of mistreatment when caring for an older loved one.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in ten Americans over 60 have experienced elder abuse.Warning Signs of Elder Abuse
The Department of Health and Hospitals, Aging and Adult Services provides various services to safeguard against elder abuse.
The following may indicate the presence of signs of elder abuse:
- Unexplained bruises or serious physical injuries, such as sprains, welts, broken bones, or black eyes. Unexplained cuts or calluses in an older person living with someone who has access to their finances
- Unusual weight loss and malnutrition
- Presence of poorly maintained personal appearance or poor hygiene
- A senior citizen who is socially isolated from friends and relatives, especially if they have recently made changes to their estate
- Sudden changes such as large withdrawals of cash by caregivers, adult children, or a family member
- An older adult who seems fearful when seeing an unfamiliar person or a particular family member
- A senior citizen who is suddenly awakened in the night when caregivers come to provide care
- Prolonged periods of unexplained absence by a caregiver, especially if they have prior arrests for criminal behavior
- Unusual items missing from an older person’s home that would commonly be available such as spare keys, ATM cards, checkbooks, jewelry, other valuables, and unpaid bills
- Older adults who complain about being watched or followed
After recognizing the signs of elder abuse in an older adult, it is vital to act quickly to stop the mistreatment.
Report elder abuse to prevent severe injury or death for victims who have become dependent on their abusers for care, yet the caregivers have substance abuse problems. You can report abuse by calling the local police department or adult protective services.Specific Elder Abuse and Neglect Concerns
One in ten Americans over the age of 60 have experienced some form of elder abuse? It’s time to act and help stop this problem from getting worse. If you suspect elder abuse, it’s essential to speak up and get the victim the help they need before it becomes too late.
Everyone can make a difference through education on signs of elder abuse, what resources are available for victims, and reporting elder abuse cases to the concerned agencies such as local adult protective services and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services!Physical Elder Abuse
Physical abuse is an assault that may result in bodily injury, physical pain, or impairment. Not all physical abuse is detectable. However, bruising, broken bones, burns, and internal injuries are possible indicators.
Other examples of physical neglect include deteriorated hygiene, lack of food or water, or lack of necessary medication.
Other physical signs include:
- Unexplained bruises or scars
- Broken bones, black eyes, fractured teeth
- An older adult who gets frequent injuries from falls
- Unusual withdrawal due to fear of others
- An older adult who seems fearful when seeing an unfamiliar person
- Drugs or medication used inappropriately
- Neglected hygiene (unwashed hair or clothes, untrimmed nails)
Emotional abuse inflicts anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts. Emotionally abused elders often feel depressed and helpless.
Emotional abuse is defined as any behavior that may impair a person’s cognitive health.
It may include:
- Threatening an older adult with words or gestures
- Other acts of emotional abuse include isolating someone from friends and family members
- Giving them ‘the silent treatment’
- Ruining their reputation
- Withholding necessities such as food, water, and clothes
Sexual abuse is a serious problem among older adults in institutional settings. Typically, the sexual abuse includes:
- Unwanted sexual interaction
- Non-consensual sexual contact
- Inappropriate touching
- Capturing video and photographic images of the elder’s genitals
Many older persons who were sexually assaulted by a health care worker, family caregiver display signs of:
- Unusual depression
- Unusual weight loss
- Unattended medical needs
- Frequent arguments and tense relationships
- Unexplained withdrawal from family and friends
Elder neglect or abandonment is the intentional refusal to fulfill any part of a person’s obligations or duties to an elder with the intent to cause harm, mental anguish, or anxiety. It may include acts such as leaving an older person without food, water, medication, personal hygiene.Psychological Abuse
Mental abuse inflicts anguish, mental pain, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts. This form of abuse may include:
Ignoring an older adult’s requests; not allowing them to speak for themselves; withholding affection or emotional support; using either subtle or threatening behavior that results in isolation from others.
Other examples of psychological neglect include:
- Verbal assaults
- Treating them like infants or children
- Not allowing an older adult to make their own decisions
Psychological abuse can also include the threat of deportation for immigrants, regardless of legal status.Financial Abuse
Financial abuse is a form of mistreatment involving illegally or improperly using an older adult’s funds, property, or assets. For example, economic exploitation and abuse may occur when a caregiver takes possession of their elder client’s funds under false pretenses such as stealing money from bank accounts, a wallet, purse, or credit/debit card.Elder Self-Abuse
The elderly are vulnerable, and this demographic is at risk for self-injury. Elderly self-abuse is often caused by mental illness, physical pain or discomfort, or loneliness.
The most common types of self-harm in the elderly include:
- Burning oneself with cigarettes or matches.
- Cutting one’s wrist(s) with a sharp object such as a knife
- Making superficial cuts on other parts of the body using scissors or knives
- Biting oneself until drawing blood and breaking bones
- Not providing oneself with appropriate food, shelter, clothing, hygiene care
- Refusing needed prescription medication
- Neglect of personal safety issues such as a dangerous living situation (e.g., electrical wires exposed)
- Refusing to eat, bathe, clean one’s teeth, or change clothes for months at a time
- Not providing oneself with appropriate food, shelter, clothing, hygiene care
- Refusing needed prescription medication
- Unsafe driving habits
- Not wearing a helmet while bicycling
Elder self-neglect is the neglect of personal care and safety often caused by a physical or mental illness or disability.
A recent study found that 1% of people aged 60 years and older living in local authority care facilities had experienced some form of intentional physical harm to themselves (with 6% reporting non-intentional injury).Preventing Elder Abuse and Self-Neglect
Everyone can prevent elder abuse and elder self-neglect by fostering healthy relationships between older adults and their families, friends, and caregivers. The following actions can help reduce the risk of elder abuse:
- Learn the signs of abuse and elder neglect by becoming educated about elder mistreatment and reporting abuse.
- Be aware of resources in your area to assist abused elders, such as support groups
- Seek support for yourself if you recognize any of the warning signs of elder abuse or risk factors
- Express your concerns to the older adult in a caring and non-judgmental manner
- Promote the independence of older adults by encouraging them to make decisions, solve problems, and maintain social connections with support groups.
In addition to general warning signs such as cuts and bruises in various stages of healing, bedsores, and poor hygiene, elder abuse and elder self-neglect can also manifest in the following behaviors:
- Fearful or depressed mood
- Isolation from other family members and friends
- Poor physical appearance or personal hygiene
- Lack of medical care for physical problems
- Withdrawal from normal activities
- Unexplained disappearance of money or valuable items amounts to financial abuse and may render an elderly adult unable to pay bills.
- Unexplained injuries
If you are concerned about an elder in your family or community (e.g., because of changes in their physical, mental, or emotional well-being or a caregiver’s failure), call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 to find out how local agencies can assist.The National Center on Elder Abuse Championing the Rights of the Elderly Persons
The National Center on Elder Abuse is another agency that provides information on elder abuse. You can call the Center at 1-202-898-2586 or visit its website to file an elder abuse report.
In addition, the National Center on Elder Abuse also provides technical assistance to states and local communities, develops training materials, and promotes public awareness of elder abuse.For More Information About What is Elder Abuse and Where to Get Help
For additional information on elder abuse, mistreatment, and self-neglect, you can contact the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (NCPEA). NCPEA has regional-based chapters nationwide, and it provides general information about elder abuse issues through its toll-free national hotline: 1-800-677-1116. You may also visit its website.
For immediate help, contact the Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging: 1-800-677-1116 or www.eldercare.gov.
The Eldercare Locator is staffed Monday through Friday, 9 am to 8 pm EST. In addition, the website provides information about local resources for elders and family members who care for them.
If you are concerned about an elder in your family or community (e.g., because of changes in their physical, mental, or emotional well-being), call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 to find out how local agencies can assist.Was Your Loved One Abused? Our Personal Injury Lawyers Can Help
Were you or a loved one abused or neglected while residing in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or any other long-term care institution, call our experienced attorneys today. We are available to assist you 24 hours a day.
You may be entitled to compensation for your loved one’s injuries. Call us today at (800) 926-7565 for a free consultation with an experienced nursing home abuse attorney to learn more about your legal rights and options.
We collect no fees unless we win compensation on your behalf.