Improvements in healthcare have led to a longer lifespan, which also means that there are more seniors requiring some type of long-term care, whether in nursing homes or by family members. Although many people assume that nursing homes, healthcare workers, and family members will do their very best to take care of these older individuals, in many cases seniors fall prey to abuse. Estimates from the US Department of Health and Human Services state that around one in ten elderly Americans are victims of elder abuse, and those numbers could be much higher since it often goes unreported.

What Is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse takes many forms and could manifest itself as mental, physical, and/or sexual abuse, as well as financial exploitation and fraud. At its most basic definition, it is any time someone or a group of people, namely caretakers, mistreats or exploits a person older than about 65. Neglect and abandonment also fall under the elder abuse umbrella. The state governments oversee the legislation on elder abuse, so the qualifications for abuse may vary, including the age that qualifies as an elderly person.

Signs of Elder Abuse

Most of the time, someone with whom the person has a close relationship is doing the abuse, much like child abuse. This makes it even harder for the person to report the mistreatment. Additionally, some older individuals do not have the mental or physical faculties to talk about any mishandling or neglect they may experience. That is why if you have parents or grandparents in a nursing home, work with the elderly, or otherwise interact on a regular basis with someone over the age of 60, it is important to learn the signs of elder abuse.

The actual signs of elder abuse will differ depending on the type of abuse, whether it is mental, physical, sexual, neglect, or exploitation. Some signs include:

  • Recurring bruises and unexplained injuries, especially in areas typically covered with clothing
  • Poor hygiene, problems with the hair or skin
  • Unhygienic environment
  • Withdrawal, depression, not wishing to talk with others
  • Malnutrition
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Weight loss or gain that cannot be explained
  • Suspicious signatures or new names added to any personal banking accounts
  • Missing money or valuable items

Not all changes to a person’s mood, behavior patterns, and health are simply explained by the natural aging process and disease progression. Therefore, it is best to investigate any behaviors that cannot be easily explained to ensure the person is in a safe environment.

Who to Call for Elder Abuse Cases

Elder abuse is a silent epidemic sweeping the nation with very few victims actually reporting it. If you suspect elder abuse, then it is important to contact your state’s Adult Protective Services (APS) center even if you only think that it is mistreatment rather than actual abuse. APS can answer any questions or discuss concerns with you and may decide to investigate the case to see if action is necessary.

The elderly are similarly susceptible to abuse as children, since many of the victims of elder abuse do not have the power to protect themselves. It is important that those close to them, including medical professionals, remain vigilant of signs of elder abuse and report it to APS.