Is Elder Abuse on the Rise? And What Can We Do About It?

by Ali Davidson on March 5, 2011

With the recent news about Mickey Rooney and elder abuse I feel compelled to write an article about this subject.  Like all people who are in some way vulnerable, such as young children, the disabled, and to some degree women, seniors too have suffered from abuse.  This abuse can take on many forms.  Typically the ones you’ll hear about are related to financial abuse as it is easy to prove fraud.  But there is much more going on that we don’t hear about in the news.  This abuse is related to the care of a senior and the abuse of the seniors’ power.  It’s the story of the senior who depends on someone for their daily needs who is doing them more harm than good.  When the senior has some kind of dementia it is sometimes easier to step in and protect them because no accusation is required from them.  When there is no dementia however, it is harder to help that senior.

In the 9 years I provided care to seniors through my in-home care agency, many times I saw evidence of abuse which I was mandated to report.  The unfortunate thing is that as long as a senior understands the consequences of their actions, they have the right to make poor decisions.  So for example, if we saw that a senior was being taken advantage of or treated badly by another person and we sent out Adult Protective Services to investigate, more often than not, the senior would not accuse their abuser because to do so would mean that they would lose what little support they had from that person.  Their fear of being alone was greater than whatever mistreatment, abuse, or financial losses they would incur.

Are we going to see a rise in elder abuse?  I think the answer to that unfortunately is yes.  The sheer numbers of seniors coming of age is increasing everyday as we live longer and boomers start aging.  More seniors means the chance for elder abuse will also increase.  So what can we do?

Part of the answer is awareness.  The more people understand the reality of elder abuse and can recognize the symptoms, the more likely we can stop it.   Below are some of the symptoms provided by Adult Protective Services:

1. Discrepancies between a person’s standard of living and his/her financial assets, or a depletion of assets without adequate explanation.  Money or personal items such as eyeglasses, jewelry, hearing aids, or dentures are missing without explanation.

2.  Malnourishment and inadequate physical care, including dehydration or lack of food, poor hygiene,  urine sores, or bed sores, or over-sedation.

3. Physical injuries, such as bruises, burn marks, welts, rope burns, tufts of hair missing, broken bones, none of which can be adequately explained.

4. Withdrawn, apathetic, fearful, or anxious behavior, particularly around certain persons.  The victim may suddenly and without explanation express a desire not to visit or receive visits from family or friends.

5. Medical needs are not attended to.

6. Sudden, unexplained changes in the victim’s living arrangements, such as a younger person moving in to “care for” them shortly after meeting.

For more information and further details visit this website. http://www.coaottawa.ca/elderabuse/english/sign_symptoms.html It is a great resource.

The other thing we can do for our loved ones is to help them create a plan for their aging years that would include safeguards.  Having someone your senior can trust to watch out for anyone who might hurt them is key to their safety.  When seniors are alone too much they become vulnerable to people who recognize their weakness…that of needing someone to relate to.  So regular visits and interactions with others helps keep them alert to the dis-empowering actions of someone intent on taking advantage of them.  If a senior has a lot of money it is also wise to have a financial advisor  or a trust officer who can monitor their funds.  This could protect them from financial abuse.

The bottom line is that we all need to have someone we know is looking out for our interests as we age. Perhaps through our diligence, our planning, and most of all our love…we can turn the tide on elder abuse.  Our seniors need us.  Let’s be there for them.

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