Detection & Prevention
Each year, hundreds of thousands of older persons are abused, neglected, and exploited. In addition, elders throughout the United States lose an estimated $2.6 billion or more annually due to elder financial abuse and exploitation, funds that could have been used to pay for basic needs such as housing, food, and medical care. Unfortunately, no one is immune to abuse, neglect, and exploitation. It occurs in every demographic, and can happen to anyone—a family member, a neighbor, even you. Yet it is estimated that only about one in five of those crimes are ever discovered.
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is an excellent time to share information about abuse, neglect and exploitation in later life. However, raising awareness and mistreatment of older persons is an ongoing effort not limited to one day. I encourage all caregivers to visit the “Join Us in the Fight Against Elder Abuse” section of the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) website for more information on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. As a community we need to make the commitment to make long-lasting differences in the lives of vulnerable elders.
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was launched on June 15, 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations. The purpose of WEAAD is to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.
Sadly, most elder abuse goes unreported. Many elderly adults are abused in their own homes, in relatives’ homes, and even in facilities responsible for their care. If you suspect that an elderly person is at risk from a neglectful or overwhelmed caregiver, or being preyed upon financially, it’s important to speak up.
Know the Signs:
- Frequent arguments or tension between a family member and the elderly person
- Changes in personality or behavior in the elder
If you suspect elderly abuse, but aren't sure, look for clusters of the following physical, behavioral, emotional and financial signs.
- Unexplained signs of injury such as bruises, welts, or scars, especially if they appear symmetrically on two side of the body
- Broken bones, sprains, or dislocations
- Report of drug overdose or apparent failure to take medication regularly (a prescription has more remaining than it should)
- Broken eyeglasses or frames
- Signs of being restrained, such as rope marks on wrists
- Refusal to allow you to see the elder alone
In addition to the general signs above, indications of emotional elder abuse include:
- Threatening, belittling, or controlling caregiver behavior that you witness
- Behavior from the elder that mimics dementia, such as rocking, sucking, or mumbling to oneself
- Unusual weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration
- Untreated physical problems, such as bed sores
- Unsanitary living conditions: dirt, bugs, soiled bedding and clothes
- Being left dirty or unbathed
- Unsuitable clothing or covering for the weather
- Unsafe living conditions (no heat or running water; faulty electrical wiring, other fire hazards)
- Desertion of the elder at a public place
- Significant withdrawals from the elder’s accounts
- Sudden changes in the elder’s financial condition
- Items or cash missing from the senior’s household
- Suspicious changes in wills, power of attorney, titles, and policies
- Addition of names to the senior’s signature card
- Unpaid bills or lack of medical care, although the elder has enough money to pay for them
- Financial activity the senior couldn’t have done, such as an ATM withdrawal when the account holder is bedridden
- Unnecessary services, goods, or subscriptions
How Do You Report Suspected Elder Abuse?
If you are an elder who is being abused, neglected, or exploited, tell at least one person. Tell your doctor, a friend, or a family member whom you trust. Or call one of the helplines listed below for the State of Washington:
- Call 1-866-363-4276 (1-866-END-HARM)
- Call directly the Adult Protective Services office in your county
- To report suspected mistreatment in long-term care facilities, contact 1-800-562-6078.
- The statewide referral line which connects reporters to appropriate investigation agency is 1-866-363-4276
If you see an older adult being abused or neglected, don’t hesitate to report the situation. Don’t assume that someone else will take care of it or that the person being abused is capable of getting help if he or she really needs it.
Many seniors don't report the abuse they face even if they’re able. Some fear retaliation from the abuser, while others believe that if they turn in their abusers, no one else will take care of them. When the abusers are their children, they may be ashamed that their children are behaving abusively or blame themselves: “If I’d been a better parent when they were younger, this wouldn’t be happening.” Or they just may not want children they love to get into trouble with the law.