It is sad but true that the risk of elder maltreatment is high enough in the US that the situation justified the creation of a federal institution, the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), dedicated to tracking statistics on, and preventing, the abuse of the elderly. NCEA reports that the problem of elder abuse is growing, that collective data from state Adult Protective Services (APS) agencies show an increasing trend in the reporting of elder abuse.
Elder mistreatment Statistics
- According to NCEA, as many as two million elders are abused in the United States.
- In one year alone, the U.S. Administration on Aging announced a cumulative total in state-reported incidences of more than 20,000 complaints of senior abuse, gross neglect, and exploitation of seniors who were in nursing homes or were board and care residents.
- A National Research Council Panel to Review Risk and Prevalence of Elder Abuse and Neglect reported in 2003 that 1-2 million elder Americans were injured, exploited, or mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection.
- While elder abuse happens in professional institutions, the NCEA cautions you to be aware that 90 percent of reported elder abuse is committed by family members.
Common Signs of Elder Abuse
Signs of Elder Physical AbuseHere are some of the common signs that your elderly relative may be a victim of physical abuse or neglect:
- Sudden changes in behavior
- Bedsores – an extremely dangerous condition, as it can lead to sepsis infection – blood poisoning – a whole-body state of inflammation, which is potentially deadly.
- Strange or unexplained cuts, sprains, bruises, burns, or broken bones, which may be in various stages of healing (suggesting a long-term abuse situation)
- Frozen/immobile joints
- Refusal of nursing home staff to allow visitors to be alone with your elder relative
- Unexplained venereal disease or genital trauma
- The appearance that your elder relative is being kept in an over-medicated condition
Signs of Financial Elder abuseElder financial abuse is statistically a more frequent problem when the person is being cared for at home, and can come from a relative or professional in-home caregiver providing services.
Signs of elder care financial abuse to be on the lookout for:
- Someone else's name has been added to your relative's signature card.
- Cash or other items of value are missing from your relative's wallet, purse, or room.
- You've noticed uncharacteristically large withdrawals from your loved one's financial accounts.
- Your elder relative unexpectedly wants to change their will, their power of attorney status, their real estate title, or their life insurance policy.
- You see unpaid bills, and yet you know your relative has the funds to pay the bills.
- You notice ATM withdrawals from your relative's accounts in spite of the fact that he or she has no access to a machine.
What to do if you suspect your elder relative is being abused
It is not safe to assume that those hired to care for the elderly will notice the problem. Signs of elder abuse can easily be missed by professionals because of lack of training on detecting abuse or because the elderly individual is often reluctant to report abuse to their institution for fear of retaliation, a physical or cognitive inability to speak up, or because, if the abuser is a family friend or relative, they don’t want to get the perpetrator in trouble.
And so, it’s up you. Become the watchful eyes; pay attention and ask questions. Be ready to take legal action against perpetrators if necessary.