Identifying, preventing elder abuse

Every year, tens of thousands of
elderly people are abused in their own homes, in relatives’ homes, and even in
facilities responsible for their care. You may suspect that an elderly person
you know is being harmed physically or emotionally by a neglectful or
overwhelmed caregiver or being preyed upon financially. By learning the signs
and symptoms of elder abuse and how to act on behalf of an elderly person who
is being abused, you’ll not only be helping someone else but strengthening your
own defences against elder abuse in the future.

What is elder abuse?

As elders become more physically
frail, they’re less able to stand up to bullying and or fight back if attacked.
They may not see or hear as well or think as clearly as they used to, leaving
openings for unscrupulous people to take advantage of them. Mental or physical
ailments may make them more trying companions for the people who live with

More than half a million reports of
abuse against elderly Americans reach authorities every year, and millions more
cases go unreported.

Where does elder abuse take place?

Elder abuse tends to take place
where the senior lives: most often in the home where abusers are apt to be
adult children; other family members such as grandchildren; or spouses/partners
of elders. Institutional settings especially long-term care facilities can also
be sources of elder abuse.

Abuse of elders takes many
different forms, some involving intimidation or threats against the elderly,
some involving neglect, and others involving financial chicanery.

Types of abuse

Physical elder abuse – This is
non-accidental use of force against an elderly person that results in physical
pain, injury, or impairment. Such abuse includes not only physical assaults
such as hitting or shoving but the inappropriate use of drugs, restraints, or

Physical abuse can result in
unexplained signs of injury such as bruises, welts, or scars, especially if
they appear symmetrically on two side of the body, broken bones, sprains, or
dislocations, the report of drug overdose or apparent failure to take
medication regularly (a prescription has more remaining than it should). Such
abuse can also include broken eyeglasses or frames, signs of being restrained,
such as rope marks on wrists or a caregiver’s refusal to allow you to see the
elder alone.

Emotional abuse – In emotional or
psychological senior abuse, people speak to or treat elderly persons in ways
that cause emotional pain or distress.

Verbal forms of emotional elder
abuse include – intimidation through yelling or threats, humiliation and
ridicule, habitual blaming or scapegoating.

In addition to the general signs
above, indications of emotional elder abuse include threatening, belittling, or
controlling caregiver behaviour that you witness and behaviour from the elder
that mimics dementia, such as rocking, sucking, or mumbling to oneself.

Non-verbal psychological elder
abuse can take the form of ignoring the elderly person, isolating an elder from
friends or activities, terrorising or menacing the elderly person

Sexual abuse – Sexual elder abuse
is contact with an elderly person without the elder’s consent. Such contact can
involve physical sex acts, but activities such as showing an elderly person
pornographic material, forcing the person to watch sex acts, or forcing the
elder to undress are also considered sexual elder abuse. Bruises around breasts
or genitals, unexplained venereal disease or genital infections, unexplained
vaginal or anal bleeding and torn, stained, or bloody underclothing.

Elder neglect – failure to fulfil a
caretaking obligation, constitutes more than half of all reported cases of
elder abuse. It can be active (intentional) or passive (unintentional, based on
factors such as ignorance or denial that an elderly charge needs as much care
as he or she does). Be sensitive to unusual weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration,
untreated physical problems, such as bed sores, unsanitary living conditions:
dirt, bugs, soiled bedding and clothes, being left dirty or unbathed, unsuitable
clothing or covering for the weather, unsafe living conditions (no running
water; faulty electrical wiring, other fire hazards) or desertion of the elder
at a public place.

Financial abuse – This involves
unauthorised use of an elderly person’s funds or property, either by a
caregiver or an outside scam artist. An unscrupulous caregiver might misuse an
elder’s personal cheques, credit cards, or accounts, steal cash, income checks,
or household goods, forge the elder’s signature or engage in identity theft.
Typical rackets that target elders include announcements of a “prize” that the
elderly person has won but must pay money to claim phony charities and
investment fraud.

This might include significant
withdrawals from the elder’s accounts, sudden changes in the elder’s financial
condition, items or cash missing from the senior’s household, suspicious
changes in wills, power of attorney, titles, and policies, the addition of
names to the senior’s signature card, unpaid bills or lack of medical care, although
the elder has enough money to pay for them, financial activity the senior
couldn’t have done, such as an ATM withdrawal when the account holder is
bedridden and unnecessary services, goods, or subscriptions.

What to do

At first, you might not recognise
or take seriously signs of elder abuse. They may appear to be symptoms of
dementia or signs of the elderly person’s frailty — or caregivers may explain
them to you that way. In fact, many of the signs and symptoms of elder abuse do
overlap with symptoms of mental deterioration, but that doesn’t mean you should
dismiss them on the caregiver’s say-so.

If you suspect and want to report
elder abuse contact the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, at 949-4222, which
has a Family Support Unit and/or the Department of Children & Family Services,
at 949-0290.

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