Elder abuse may be an uncomfortable topic, but it’s a difficult conversation worth having because of how prevalent and insidious it can really be. There are several stigmas attached to topics like abuse, and for senior abuse, in particular, these go largely unnoticed. Senior citizens may be more vulnerable, but it may also be harder for them to speak up.
Senior caregiving includes being vigilant about preventing elderly abuse, especially when you entrust the job to someone else. Families should have their guards up at all times, to make sure that their elderly loved ones are not taken advantage of.
Elder abuse comes in many forms, which you may not be aware of. In the following discussion, we will break down the important things to know about elder abuse, so you know what to look out for.
For those who are unaware, elderly abuse is more common than you think. An estimated 1 in 6 individuals who are aged 60 and above are subject to one type of elderly abuse or another. Abuse among the elderly is common in settings such as long-term care facilities and nursing homes. Those who have been abused or maltreated have 300% higher risk of death as well.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risks for elder abuse mainly due to social isolation. Limiting physical contact to caregivers because of social distancing has likewise prevented elder abuse from being detected by others. Also, due to the financial and emotional hardships brought about by the pandemic, older adults are more susceptible to experiencing abuse.
It is also important to note that figures surrounding elder abuse may even go unreported, due to fear, trauma, and many other reasons.
Abuse among the elderly comes in several forms, with some being harder to detect than others. Here are the most common types of elder abuse:
Recognizing that elder abuse exists is the first step in taking the right measures to prevent it. Here is an action plan that you can get started with:
There are warning signs that may signal that elder abuse is occurring. You may notice that your elderly loved one has unusual injuries, like scratches, broken bones, cuts, or bruises. They may also experience drastic weight loss or bad hygiene from malnourishment or improper care.
You may also notice behavioral changes, like anxiety, disorientation, depression, and withdrawal from daily activities and relationships. Financially, you may spot strange patterns in transactions and spending.
Primary caregivers need support, too. The nature of work can cause a lot of emotional and mental distress because of the countless demands that you have. Sometimes, this can lead to caregivers displaying abusive behaviors out of frustration, and without them even realizing it.
As much as possible, make sure that your loved one’s caregivers receive the support they need. Check in as often as you can, and if you are able to give caregivers shifts to avoid burnout, it is recommended that you do so as well.
It is important for seniors to stay active for their physical and mental wellbeing. It can mitigate feelings of depression and serve as a healthy outlet for anxiety. When seniors stay active, you will also be able to determine their ability to participate in regular activities of daily life.
This keeps seniors strong and can also prevent them from experiencing abuse wherever they reside. When seniors are part of a community, they will be able to engage with others and avoid feelings of loneliness or isolation.
Even though your loved one may be under the watch of a caregiver in a facility or nursing home, this should not be an excuse for you to abandon them altogether. Stay in touch with your loved ones, whether this means visiting them or calling them regularly.
When you keep lines of communication open, you will be able to spot any strange behavior or changes that could signal abuse. This also gives them the ability to feel comfortable in reporting to you any abusive behavior they may be experiencing.
Before you even hire a caregiver, make sure to have a selective screening process. After all, you will be trusting this person to care for your loved one. Schedule interviews, thoroughly review applications, do background checks and consult with agencies if needed, and speak to references if you can.
References should be both former employers and former patients or clients, so that you can assess if they did their job right. You will also be able to ask as many questions as possible to prepare for your interviews with your shortlist of caregivers.
Elder abuse is a severe concern, so here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about the topic:
Understanding that elder abuse exists is a way of preventing it. You will be able to recognize it through various signs, such as injuries; behavioral, mental, and emotional changes; drastic physical changes, sleep disturbance, poor hygiene, strange patterns in financial activity, unmet needs, and things along these lines.
Factors that contribute to elder abuse could be direct or indirect. It could be due to high levels of stress on the end of the caregivers, isolation, lack of support, unqualified caregivers, understaffing, personal problems among caregivers, and other similar factors.
Most cases of elder abuse occur in long-term care facilities and nursing homes.
Elder abuse can be considered a crime, with some forms considered misdemeanors or felonies. Depending on the severity and nature of the abuse, abusers may face jail time or have to pay restitution.
Neglect is the most common form of elder abuse.
Now that you know the risk factors and warning signs of elder abuse, you will be able to spot it. For more information on taking care of aging parents, check out some of our previous articles. Contact Senior Strong for all your senior care needs!
William Rivers is an editor with a master’s degree in Human Services Counseling at Maine State University. He has more than 20 years of experience working in the senior healthcare industry.