A Discussion of Elder Abuse

The terrifying facts are that one in 10 American seniors, or approximately 10%, have suffered some form of elder abuse. Each year 5.9 million cases of elder abuse are reported in the United States, and authorities estimate that only about one in 24 cases is reported and investigated. There are many reasons why and various ways that seniors suffer abuse at the hands of others, but it comes down to a perception of fragility and vulnerability that make them easy prey — we will also discuss some abuse that is not necessarily intentional. Seniors who have physical or mobility challenges are at an increased risk for abuse, and those who suffer from dementia are the epitome of vulnerability. 

The fear of abuse is the number one reason seniors fear moving to a residential facility and what makes family and seniors alike leary about inviting an in-home caregiver into their homes. With the statistics we just stated, we agree that it is a very valid fear, and we are here to educate you and your loved ones on the facts. In today’s post, we want to take the opportunity to confront this ugly truth head-on and help families better understand elder abuse, and offer some tips on how to avoid it.

Understanding What Elder Abuse Is

When we discuss abuse in any form, the majority of people hear the term “elder abuse,” and assume physical or sexual assault. However, the abuse that most seniors suffer consists of emotional and financial abuse, and neglect. The majority of seniors who suffer abuse of any kind suffer at the hands of their caregivers. 

Physical abuse is when a senior is exposed to the intentional use of physical force that includes hitting, kicking, pushing, slapping, and burning that results in illness, pain, injury, functional impairment, distress, or death. 

Physical abuse of seniors accounts for about 16% of all elder abuse, and nearly 60% of cases are perpetrated by the senior’s family members as a result of the stress or burden of caring for the mobility- or cognitively- impaired senior. 

Sexual abuse is the forced or unwanted sexual contact of a senior and includes unwanted sexual contact, touch, penetration, or verbal harassment.

Sexual abuse accounts for less than 1% of elder abuse, but some sources say that most of these cases go unreported, so the actual number is unknown.

Emotional or psychological abuse is verbal or nonverbal speech or behaviors that result in anguish, mental pain, fear, or distress to a senior. This type of abuse does not include physical harm but includes humiliation or disrespect, threats, harassment, or isolation.

Nearly 8% of all seniors are subject to emotional or psychological abuse, and the number doubles for emotional neglect. For those seniors who are cognitively impaired, the numbers of those who suffer some sort of emotional abuse or neglect continue to soar based on the false perception that they won’t know about it. 

Neglect is the intentional failure to meet a senior’s basic needs that include food, water, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and essential medical care. Acts of neglect include refusing to change an incontinent person or failing to alleviate shear or pressure in the immobile senior (leaving them in the same position).

Neglect is by far the most common form of elder abuse, with nearly 58% of elder abuse reports being those of neglect. Many times neglect will manifest in bedsores, infection such as pneumonia or sepsis, malnutrition, kidney function impairment, urinary tract infections, and other complications. Some forms of neglect in seniors is the direct result of family caregivers not being fully aware of the needs of their loved ones, while many more are the result of being overburdened by the increased needs of the mobility impaired and the false belief that they are actively dying and do not need full care. Our angels are here to help prevent this!

Financial abuse is the financial exploitation of a senior or the illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of a senior’s money, benefits, belongings, property, or assets for the benefit of someone other than the senior.

Some reports estimate that nearly 40% of all American seniors are suffering financial abuse, many of whom are completely unaware of it. Financial abuse of seniors is estimated to be the most common form of intentional elder abuse and is frequently perpetrated by family members. 

Risks and Warning Signs of Elder Abuse

Understanding the risks and warning signs of elder abuse can help you better safeguard your elderly loved one.

Risks of Elder Abuse

To better understand how elder abuse happens, it’s important to take a look at the risk factors. It is rare that people seek out the opportunity to abuse the elderly, and more often than not, it is a result of compassion fatigue, stress, and the perceived inability for their senior to prevent or report the abuse. Some risk factors include:

  • Memory impairment
  • “Total care” seniors 
  • Mobility impairment
  • Depression and isolation in caregivers
  • Caregiver fatigue or burnout
  • Overburdened caregivers 

Signs of Elder Abuse

Warning signs will vary based on the type of abuse being inflicted and the cognitive awareness of the senior who is being abused. Some signs to look out for include:

  • Changes in behavior or mood
  • Withdrawn or fearful behavior
  • Overbearing or aggressive behavior in the caregiver
  • Unexplained bruises, cuts, or skin tears
  • Bedsores
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Increased anxiety, agitation or confusion, especially around certain caregivers
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Refusal to participate in activities or bath
  • Unusual changes in sleep patterns
  • Sudden combativeness 

Any one of these warning signs warrants immediate further investigation.

How to Prevent and Intervene on Suspected Abuse

The key to preventing abuse is being proactive, understanding risk factors, and fully understanding the needs of the senior. When family members are taking on the responsibility of caring for their elderly loved one, it is a good idea to enlist professional help, even if that means occasional home health or respite care. Alleviating some of the burdens and seeking help from trained professionals to educate families and relieve some of the care burdens to prevent compassion fatigue. Other prevention tips include:

  • Perform thorough background checks on all caregivers
  • Check-in on caregivers and seniors regularly
  • Routinely assess risk factors and warning signs
  • Take time off! 
  • Have a care TEAM to avoid placing responsibilities on one person and have several pairs of eyes on the vulnerable senior’s care

At Angels on Call Homecare, we work hard to reduce elder abuse at the hands of overwhelmed family caretakers by offering respite care and affordable part- or full-time care for seniors. We don’t just commit ourselves to provide optimal patient comfort, but also reducing caregiver burden. We take the safety and wellbeing of our seniors seriously and implement every safeguard to prevent any form of abuse. Our angels are trained on elder abuse and all of our employees undergo a thorough background check and regular monitoring. When you partner with Angels on Call Homecare, you can rest assured that your elderly loved one is well cared for and has someone looking out for them. Connect with us to start safe, in-home care for your aging loved one. 

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