Elder abuse and how to recognize it

Elder abused is defined by the World Health Organizations as a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.

Elder abuse can by in the form of psychological, physical, financial, neglect and or sexual. The highest form of abuse is typically psychological with physical being the next highest. The majority of abuse cases are reported by other adults witnessing the act or by staff of the facility where the elder may be living.

Risk Factors

The risks factors of someone being abused comes down to the individual who is doing the abusing. They could have mental or physical health issues or substance abuse and they are clouding their judgement and causing them to being abusive to those close to them. While both men and women are subject to elder abuse, typically women (especially is cultures where women are seen as inferior) will experience more persistent and sever forms of abuse and are at a higher risk of neglect and financial abuse.

Unfortunately, for a lot of abuse situations, as shared living situations plays a large factor. If there is a long history of poor family relationships it may worsen if these family members end up living together or being around each other far more than what is healthy for them.

If there is a lack of community or social support and the elder and care giver are being run down and feeling isolated the risks of abuse increase. There are many elder people who live in isolated areas where receiving community support just isn’t possible. So when things turn south it can be even harder to receive the help needed to not only stop the abuse but also prevent it from happening again.

Signs of elder abuse or neglect

Financial exploitation 
  • Unusual spending habits with the senior’s money… Things that they don’t need or want but are still being bought for them.
  • Confusing bank transactions that don’t add up to what the senior is spending
  • Missing statements or financial documents
  • Unopened mail or sweepstakes offers
  • Unpaid bills or warning letters from creditors or utility companies
  • A new friend who is offering low or not cost care (stealing)
  • Missing property or personal possessions
  • Suspicious legal documents or power of attorney laying around
  • Documents that appeared to be signed under duress or forged
  • Confusion surrounding recent financial arrangements
  • Reduced level of care despite the ability to pay for a better service.
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Sudden decrease in appetite
  • Dehydration
  • New or unexpected breathing problems
  • Dirty or inappropriate clothing
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Frequent skin rashes or irritations
  • Untreated injuries or infections
  • Bedsores
  • Expired prescriptions
  • Faster than expected health decline
  • Lack of assistive services
  • Pest infestations
  • Lack of attention surrounding needed repairs
  • Missing or broken eye wear or hearing aids
  • Unsafe/unhealthy living conditions
Emotional abuse
  • Heightened fear, anxiety or agitation around a particular person
  • Continual weight fluctuation
  • Significant personality changes
  • Uncharacteristic disorientation or confusion
  • Strange behaviours, rocking back and forth, sucking thumb or biting oneself
  • Blood pressure that’s consistently higher than what would be expected
  • New or worsening sleep problems
Physical abuse
  • Bruises, abrasions around a person’s write, arms, legs, torso or back
  • Bruises that are in the same place on both sides
  • Multi-coloured bruises
  • Cigarette burns
  • Unexplained burns, bruises, abrasions or scars
  • Frequent sprains, strains and breaks
  • Unusual bleeding
  • Broken personal aids, glasses, dentures, hearing aids
  • Unexpected tooth loss
  • Hair loss in a small part of the head
  • Frequent falls or hospital trips
  • Injuries that haven’t been treated properly or right away
  • Suspicious patterns of medical treatments… different times at different locations for no clear or credible reason
Sexual abuse 
  • Groin or inner thigh bruises
  • Pain, irritations or unusual bleeding in buttocks or genital area
  • Bruises or cuts around breast
  • Unexplained STDs or UTIs
  • Bloodied, strained or ripped clothing… especially underwear
  • Uncharacteristic behaviour of sexual nature

Behaviours of Abusers and who are the most common to abuse

Unfortunately the most common people to be abusers of the elderly are spouses, children, siblings, other blood relatives, caregivers, friends, legal guardian, financial advisors, health care professionals, religious leaders and friends or sales people. In most cases of elder abuse or abuse at all the victim knows the abuser. And typically it’s a family member or someone they see on a regular basis.

It’s important to recognize when a loved one is changing how they behaviour and talk around an elderly individual. If their mood goes from supportive to negative, then there is a higher chance a form of abuse may occur. Keeping an eye on stresses and ensuring everyone gets the rest needed to stay healthy and maintain an ideal relationship is very important

Vulnerability spectrum

The most vulnerable to abuse are those who have chronic illness or disabilities, dementia, mental health issues, is suffering from grief or loss, have lack of support from community, substance abuse, poor financial or technological skills, low income, valuable assets, shared living space and or care givers who lack the necessary skills or have issues of their own that are preventing them from be able to provide adequate care.

When someone is being abused or neglected its vital to not put the blame on them. No one wants to be abused so if it’s happening to someone it’s probably because they are not able to help themselves or prevent it from happening. Therefore, they should not be the ones blamed for allowing it to happen. Never blame the victim of abuse. It’s not their fault. If you’re the victim, remember, it is not your fault. There is no excuse for anyone to be abusing or neglecting someone else.

Prevention and getting help

Some key ways to prevent abuse form happening to you are:

  • Taking care of your physical and mental health to the best of your ability, through eating a notorious diet, exercising, going for regular checkup and doing the things that bring you joy.
  • Getting legal assistance to create a living will and other documents that clearly outline what your wishes are and how you see your assets being divided.
  • Know your rights. If you don’t know something ask. There are plenty of resources out there for seniors, to help them understand their rights and know when they are being mistreated
  • Register your phone with a do not call registry – this will help prevent scam calls
  • Join a senior’s safety program, where you and others in your neighbourhood will form a community with guided help from professionals that will keep you educated and safe.

All of this is not to say that abuse may never happen but it does decrease the chances. Knowing how to take care of yourself and get everything in order before it’s time to rely on someone else to help take care of you will be a kay player in abuse prevention.

Getting Help

If you suspect someone is being abused, do not keep it to yourself. Report it. If there is immediate danger to life, limb or property call 911 right away. Don’t allow the abuser to get away with their action but also DO NOT approach them if they are violent or showing a threat to the victim and or others nearby.

If there’s no need for immediate response, then you can call the local non-emergency number. Non-emergency will come as soon as they can and start assessing the situation to see what needs to be done and what type of help the victim will require in order to heal.

When it comes to nursing home abuse, it needs to be reported to a management or the agency which you went through to get into the home. Abuse in a nursing home is mainly done by other residents or staff. If residents are not getting along and one is abusing the other or they both are abusing each other, it’s important to act on that and see if there’s a way to separate them. If it’s staff, then it should be reported to your immediate supervisor. If they refuse to do anything or acknowledge the incident, then go to management of the facility.

When all is said and done you may not always be able to fully recognize when abuse is happening, but seniors who stay active and involved in their community often make poor targets because they have such a large support system. Help look after others so they will help look after you.