As we get older, we also get more vulnerable. Our bodies and minds can grow weak; we may need help with basic tasks like eating or going to the bathroom. As much as we like to imagine a world where people always care for those weaker than them, some people are not so lucky.
The signs of elder abuse are not always obvious if you’re not looking. It can be even harder when an elder is not in a state to report the abuse, whether because they are afraid or not cognizant enough to explain what is happening. That’s why today we’re going to review warning signs to look out for that signal you need to look deeper into the day-to-day of an elder and their caregivers.
Sign #1: Unexplained Injuries
There are many types of elder abuse, not all of which leave physical marks or scars. That said, physical elder abuse often can.
While disturbing, some people harm elders either to vent frustrations, force them to do something or sometimes just because they want to hurt people. Signs of this violence can include bruises, burns, cuts, scars, or any sign of injury.
A caregiver should be able to protect an elder from any serious injury. Even if you’re not sure they’re inflicting injuries on an elder, these sorts of signs of violence should raise red flags. Any kind of injury demands explanation from those in charge of the elder’s care; multiple or consistent injuries are almost always a sign something is wrong.
If you notice injuries (or any of the other signs below), you need to do something. If you’re not sure how to report a nursing home, learn how here. For other sources of abuse, consider consulting a lawyer (consultations are usually free) about the best path forward.
Sign #2: Withdrawal or Fear
When people are abused, their behavior often changes. An abused elder may stop interacting with others or engaging in activities they used to enjoy.
If a person is being abused, whatever facility they’re in may seem like a trap they cannot escape. In many ways, it can be. If the elder is mentally or physically impaired, they may not have any way to escape without the aid of someone else.
Moreover, abusers often threaten their victims. If you visit an elder and they seem off, asking them if something is wrong won’t always be enough. This is doubly true if they have no way to speak to you in private or if your visits are rare.
While it can be uncomfortable to consider, remember to watch for signs of sexual abuse. Most of the signs of such abuse will be regarding a change in emotional state and demeanor. Not all abuse leaves physical signs behind.
Sign #3: Changes in Health and Weight
There are many reasons an elder’s health might deteriorate. The fact is that age weakens us. However, this fact is sometimes used by abusers to hide their abuse.
Not all abuse is direct (or sometimes even intentional). Some elders are abused through neglect; their need for food, water, medicine, or anything else can be ignored by intentionally abusive or criminally negligent caregivers.
If you notice an elder has lost a strange amount of weight, has dry lips, or is showing symptoms their medication should be treating, it is time to ask questions. Do not take simple answers either; you want details that can be verified.
Also, make sure they have access to any medical aids they can benefit from. If, intentionally or not, they don’t have their mobility, hearing, or sight aids (as best fits their health conditions) then something is wrong.
Sign #4: Unexplained Money Problems
Some people exploit the elderly in a way we haven’t touched on yet: financially. Financial elder abuse is when someone, often a caregiver, drains the accounts of an elder to that elder’s detriment.
Not all elders are in the right state of mind to monitor their own funds. That said, there is a difference between a person making sure bills are paid and care is available versus draining an elderly family member and ignoring their needs.
The biggest sign this may be occurring is unexplained (or poorly explained) money problems. This can include mail about unpaid bills or even eviction notices. Whoever has access to the elder’s accounts should be able to explain these issues and you, if possible, should try and get access to the elder’s bank records to see what happened yourself.
You should also look out for expensive or important items going missing. Many family members choose to exploit elders in order to take expensive or precious things they’re worried they won’t get when the elder passes.
Theft is theft; only the elder or, in some cases, a conservator, trustee, or other representative of their estate can decide where their property goes. It doesn’t matter who “deserves” what.
Sign #5: Living in Squalor
One of the more obvious signs an elder is being abused is if they seem to live in squalor. If their living space looks dirty or you notice any dangerous debris around, such as broken glass or smashed dinnerware, this is a major red flag.
Someone should be monitoring the elder’s environment for obvious issues like that. They also should be helping the elder clean and dress, if necessary. If an elder smells or even looks scruffy, this can be a sign they are being neglected.
Remember that bad care is still abuse. If a caregiver can’t even provide enough basic care to help make a home vaguely safe to move around in, and to help an elder not smell bad, they’re not fit to be a caregiver.
Notice Signs of Elder Abuse? Do Something
We admit, solving elder abuse isn’t easy. You may wonder if you’re seeing real signs of elder abuse or just someone you care about’s health deteriorating or some financial misstep on the part of their caregivers.
As a rule, err on the side of caution. Don’t “follow your gut” as that can mislead you. Follow the evidence, ask questions when things don’t make sense, and consult a lawyer when things seem wrong (or contact law enforcement if you think the danger is more immediate).