How to Prevent Elder Abuse

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.

What Does Elder Abuse Look Like? 

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.

The Statistics About Elder Abuse

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. 

The Different Types of Elder Abuse   

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:

  • Emotional Abuse: Emotional abuse can manifest as threats, harassment, intimidation, verbal assault, manipulation, infantilization, insults, silent treatment, and more. 
  • Financial Abuse: Financial abuse is likely to happen when caregivers have control over a senior’s finances. It includes fraud, theft, embezzlement, forging, and blocking seniors’ access to their own accounts.
  • Neglect: Neglect can happen when a caregiver fails to meet an elderly individual’s needs, whether basic, social, physical, emotional, medical, and so on. Neglect can be intentional or unintentional.
  • Physical Abuse: Physical abuse involves restraining, kicking, slapping, hitting, withholding medication, shoving, burning, scratching, punching, bruising, and the like. 
  • Sexual Abuse: Sexual abuse includes coercion, inappropriate touching, forced nudity, rape, and unwanted sexual advances or contact. 

How Can We Prevent 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: 

Understand the Signs of Elder Abuse

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. 

If you observe any of these signs and suspect elder abuse, it is essential to seek help from a psychiatrist near you to address both the physical and emotional well-being of your loved one.

Support Your Primary Caregivers

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. 

Keep Seniors Active in the Community

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.

Communicate With Family Members and Loved Ones

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. 

Look Out for High-Risk Caregivers 

When it comes to senior primary care, ensuring top-notch quality is paramount. 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. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Elder abuse is a severe concern, so here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about the topic:

What is the first step in preventing elder abuse?

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.

What factors contribute to elder abuse?

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.

Where do most cases of elder abuse occur?

Most cases of elder abuse occur in long-term care facilities and nursing homes.

Is elder abuse a crime?

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.

What is the most commonly reported type of elder abuse?

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!

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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.
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