How to Identify and Prevent Elder Abuse

Did you know that 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse? Although difficult to talk about, elder abuse is an important topic to understand and discuss in order to protect your aging loved ones from harm.

If this sounds like a startling topic to you, you are not alone. It is a hard conversation to have, let alone to identify the abuse and act on it. The best place to start is to build a foundation of trust and understanding with your aging loved one. Staying in regular contact, identifying changes, and keeping open lines of communication with your family will be most important.

Have you ever felt suspicious about a financial interaction, how someone speaks to your aging loved one or how your parent feels after a caregiver leaves the home? These are indicators that you may need to take the next step by paying closer attention and asking questions. Consider that only 1 in 44 cases of financial abuse is reported. For those aged 70+ the financial loss due to fraud is more than $750 (source).

Take a few minutes today to read this article and be vigilant with your observations. The number of individuals who genuinely love and care for you and your aging loved one far outweigh those hoping to do harm - but it only takes one.

What is Elder Abuse?

According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), elder abuse is really any form of mistreatment or a harmful act that results in injury, harm, or loss to an older person. This can be perpetrated by a person physically, emotionally, sexually, as well as through exploitation, neglect (which is more common than you may think) and abandonment.

Elder abuse is not just committed by criminals and scammers. Those perpetrating elder abuse can include family members, spouses, and staff members at nursing homes, assisted living, and other facilities, as well as those targeting older adults as easier targets for exploitation and abuse. Those looking to take advantage of your aging loved one may target them with internet scams, tax scams, telemarketing scams, or selling fraudulent products (i.e. anti-aging skin care).

Other abuses can occur both with malicious intent and without. For example, someone may be neglected on purpose to cause harm or it could be unknown neglect due to poor communication and transparency.

Discussing Elder Abuse with Your Family

Identifying Elder Abuse

Now that you have a better understanding of elder abuse, you should discuss the potential warning signs with your entire family and caring village. The warning signs include:

  • Physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment: Bruises, broken bones, burn marks
  • Emotional abuse: Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, or unusual depression
  • Financial abuse (exploitation): Sudden and extreme changes in financial situations
  • Neglect (including self-neglect): Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, unusual weight loss
  • Verbal or emotional abuse: Threats, or other uses of an imbalance of power and control by individuals
  • You should be actively looking out for elder abuse. Doing so will help all those involved to be able to identify it and quickly work to address it.

Preventing Elder Abuse

Openly discussing elder abuse with your family and aging loved one will help to proactively prevent and screen for potential abuse. Having open communication, which includes active listening, can help. If you do keep an open dialogue you should be focused on the following:

  • Listen actively to your aging loved one for any signs of abuse
  • Don’t dismiss any warning signs, instead be proactive and transparent with all family members involved
  • Engage in an open dialogue around your aging loved one’s care if cared for at home or at a care facility.
  • Agree to pay attention and watch for changes in your aging family member’s mood or appearance, to look for signs of abuse or neglect.
  • Encourage your aging family member to be cautious in financial matters and to seek counsel before making financial decisions.

Another important way to prevent financial exploitation is by speaking with your family member about executing certain documents such as a will, living will, or durable power of attorney for health care and financial purposes.

If you suspect your loved one may be a victim of elder abuse – openly discuss your concerns with the person and encourage him or her to be open with you. Set your loved one’s mind at ease and tell them that you are there to listen and assist in whatever way you can. If you have or suspect a real situation, you should immediately report it.

For more information, check out this guide for preventing elder abuse. And for state-by-state statistics on elder fraud click here.