Elder Abuse And What To Do About it

Abuse of seniors is a criminal offence but very few cases are brought to the Criminal Justice System. Elder abuse is an action by someone in a position of trust like an adult child, family member, friend or caregiver. It is estimated that 1 to 2.5 million older adults are abused annually. One quarter of older adults report psychological abuse, and 1% report physical abuse.

Elder abuse can include physical, emotional or mental harm. It can also include damage to loss of assets. Relationships can become abusive when the abuser behaves in a way that exerts control over another person.

Let’s take a look at the different forms of elder abuse in more details:

Psychological abuse

Psychological abuse is the most common with a reported rate of 54% but is also the hardest to detect. 90% of psychological abusers are also family members. If this behaviour continues for some time, it may cause severe damage to your well-being including clinical depression.

Even though psychological abuse leaves no marks, the cruelty does tremendous damage. If someone is verbally abusing you by taunts, threats, denying affection or putdowns, this is a clear sign of psychological abuse.

Some examples of psychological and emotional abuse include:

  • Jokes about behavior or disabilities
  • Not using senior’s name – may use dear instead
  • Treats senior as a child
  • Ignoring senior’s feelings
  • Not keeping promises
  • Shouting
  • Humiliation in public
  • Threatening violence
  • Alienating family or friends
  • Threats to put senior in a nursing home
  • Denying or creating long waits for food, medication, heat, or basic care
  • Placing the individual’s walker, cane, glasses or dentures out of reach

Signs of Psychological Abuse

If you suspect someone is the victim of elderly abuse, you may notice some of the following signs:

  • Withdrawal, or increasing depression
  • Evasiveness or reluctance to talk openly
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Cowering in the presence of the abuser
  • Anxiety and powerlessness
  • Fear, confusion
  • Change in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Contradictory statements
  • Missed appointments
  • Tired or stressed appearance


Elderly Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is defined as loss of assets or property. The perpetrators are usually a spouse, partner or family member such as an adult child. It could also be a caregiver, friend or someone trusted by the senior. Other types of abuse usually accompany financial abuse.

The abuser is most likely under financial stress or greedy and has access to the funds or property. They may have a gambling problem, or drug and alcohol abuse issues. They also have a false sense of entitlement and may be accessing the senior’s funds without them even being aware.

A Financial Power of Attorney can help to prevent financial abuse. The senior should understand their relationship with the individual who has power of attorney. If it is an adult child be aware that many may not have their parent’s best interest at heart, especially if it’s going to cut into their inheritance. Seniors who are approaching retirement or living in retirement should communicate with their Power Of Attorney regarding their financial goals, such as leaving money to grandchildren.

Signs of Elderly Financial Abuse

  • A new friend appears on the scene and start to accompany the senior to lawyer and financial advisor meetings.
  • Online purchases may start suddenly appearing when it’s not a common habit of the senior. The perpetrator may be using their credit card.
  • Canceled checks or bank statements go to the abuser’s home.
  • Large bank withdrawals or transfers between accounts.
  • Eviction notices or unpaid bills because of nonpayment.
  • Forgeries on legal documents or checks.
  • The senior does not know or understand their financial situation.

Elderly Physical Abuse

Physical abuse involves the act of violence causing injury and bodily harm and may include the use of restraints. Signs to watch out for include unexplained cuts, bruises or other injuries. They may also avoid family, friends or other caregivers. There may be a history of injuries or illness and delays in seeking medical help.

Elderly physical abuse may happen regularly, or just once. If this abuse takes place in assisted living facilities or nursing homes, it can be hard to detect. The perpetrators are usually unemployed, single and live with the senior in their own home. It is essential that family members visit their elderly family frequently to monitor their physical and mental condition. Some seniors may suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia that make it difficult to self-report incidences of abuse. 

Acts of violence can include any of the following:

  • Pinching or Squeezing
  • Pushing, shoving, pulling or shaking
  • Slapping or biting
  • Cigarette burns
  • Hitting, punching or kicking
  • Sexual violence
  • Force Feeding
  • Throwing objects at senior
  • Wounds that cause stitches, or broken bones and internal injuries
  • Use of weapons to harm
  • Death

Elderly Sexual Abuse

Elderly sexual abuse is engaging in sex without a senior’s consent and knowledge. It can occur with a confused senior with a form of dementia and can take place in care facilities. The perpetrators can be other residents, caregivers, visitors and even family members.

Research indicates 46% of victims are in their 70’s and 21% in their 80’s. 39% of offenders are the adult son with spouses being the next most often perpetrators (29%).

Acts of sexual abuse may include:

  • Treating senior as a sex object
  • Engaging in sexual jokes
  • Minimizing feelings and needs
  • Uncomfortable and unwanted touching
  • Witholding affection
  • Call senior names such as frigid or dried up
  • Sex on demand
  • Demanding sex with emotional and physical threats
  • Forcing sex with others or uncomfortable sex

Elder abuse may lie beneath the radar resulting in under-reported cases. It’s a complex problem with the risk of untimely deaths for the abused individuals. Aging people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. If you have observed this behaviour in others or are the target of abuse, contact your local authorities immediately.


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