By Leonard J. Hansen
Elder abuse affects four percent of the elder population every year. But, according to experts, less than one in 14 cases of elder abuse is reported to law enforcement authorities.
Elder abuse is any action that victimizes your parent to the gain of another person. The abuse may be a financial or investment scam or physically abusive to the elder. It may be deliberate in its harm; or it may be caused by incompetence of the person offering a particular caregiving service.
As a caregiver, be concerned about possible elder abuse by family members as well as conniving outsiders.
At the recent Pinal County Elder Abuse Conference in Casa Grande, Arizona, Special Assistant County Attorney Robert C. Brown presented elder abuse as it is, sadly, in the United States. Brown is recognized as a national expert on the subject and produced and hosted the new conference, his 13th annual event, to some 150 conference participants from aging services organizations plus police and prosecutorial agencies from throughout Arizona.
County Attorney Brown described elder abuse as: "Persons over 65 are subject to physical and mental illness, social isolation, life transitions and cultural biases which make manipulating them easy to do and difficult to prosecute."
There are five basic types of elder abuse: physical, sexual, psychological, financial and neglect. If others are involved, either in caregiving or as outside providers, be aware of the potential for elder abuse.
Federal and state regulations and laws mandate that many types of professionals providing service to people of your parent's age to report any suspicion they have of possible elder abuse to authorities. Physicians, visiting nurses, dentists, social workers and peace officers are all required by law to report what they suspect to be elder abuse. In some states, the person filing the suspicious elder abuse will not be identified in any action by authorities.
The 5 Types of Elder Abuse and How to Identify Them
Here is a summary from attorney Brown's presentation on elder abuse and how to identify it.
Physical abuse is the use of "physical force which may result in bodily injury, physical pain or impairment," according to Brown. "Physical abuse may include such acts as striking, hitting, beating, pushing, shoving, shaking, slapping, kicking, pinching and burning," actions which may be done to the victim as the perpetrator assumes, even wrongfully, that he or she has receded to a seriously lower level of competence or mental ability.
Suspect physical abuse if you see signs of bruising (which can be caused by belts, buckles or electrical cords) burns, abrasions or fractures. Any signs of injury out of the ordinary should be questioned.
Yes, this happens to older adults. Watch for genital or anal infection, difficulty in walking or sitting, or bilateral bruising of inner thighs.
This is a tough consideration because the victim symptoms may be caused by other physical, mental, medical or aging problems. Watch others in the caregiving process. Is there someone who threatens Mom or Dad, speaks poorly of the parent, or ignores the mature adult or his or her needs?
"Financial abuse is the illegal or improper use of an elder's assets," according to Brown. "This may include cashing the elder's social security or pension checks without permission, taking money or property from the elder, coercing or deceiving the elder into parting with property or signing documents, and diverting guardianship or conservatorship assets." If you have someone in your family caregiving team who wants financial control, while personally being financially stressed, this is a distinct possibility.
Currently, financial abuse constitutes 12 percent of the abuse against the elderly in the United States, according to Brown.
Identify possible financial abuse if bank statements are no longer coming to the parent's home, the part-time (or even full-time) caregiver has no other means of financial support, there are missing assets or property or, importantly, if the caregiver appears to have a drug or alcohol habit.
Recently, an adult child caregiver for her parent in Seattle was charged by prosecutors in Seattle for stealing and stripping her parent's financial estate of $400,000. The request for investigation was lodged by the caregiver's sister as an important step in protecting her mother.
"Neglect is the failure of a person in charge of the care of an elder to adequately perform his or her obligations," Brown says. "This may include failure to provide medicines, hygiene, food or personal safety."
This may occur when the caregiver unintentionally fails to provide adequate care; or it may happen when the caregiver lacks the knowledge about how to provide the care or when he or she is unable to cope with the stresses of caregiving.
To spot neglect, look for neglected bedsores, skin disorders or rashes, untreated injuries or medical problems, poor hygiene, hunger, malnutrition or dehydration, pallor or sunken cheeks or eyes, or lack of clean clothing or bedding.
If you feel your parent may be a victim of some form of abuse, call 911, or the local/regional Area Agency on Aging, the police, the district attorney's office, or other state organizations, such as Adult Protective Services.
Leonard J. Hansen is recognized as the pioneer journalist and author writing for and about mature adults, founding, publishing and editing Senior World newspapers and a syndicated newspaper columnist. He has received 106 professional awards and fellowships for his work.