There are millions of reported elder abuse cases in the United States each year and that number continues to rise due to the growing population of the elderly. In 2010, according to the National center on Elder Abuse there are approximately 40 million people in the U.S. who are 65 or older, which makes up 13% of the total population. With this number projected to double by 2050 the need to stop this epidemic increases. In California alone, hundreds of thousands of older persons fall victim to abuse, neglect or exploitation who are vulnerable, cannot help themselves or depend on others to meet their most basic needs.
Laws to prevent elder abuse have been passed throughout the U.S. and additional efforts are being made to raise awareness. However, there are still millions of cases that are believed to go unreported each year and the exact number of those who are abuse is hard to know. It is thought that only 1 out of 14 cases are actually being reported because of physical or mental disabilities, embarrassment, isolation or fear of retaliation.
Elder abuse is defined as any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that cause harm or serious rick of harm to a vulnerable adult. It can come in many forms including physical, emotional, sexual, neglect, abandonment, healthcare, self-neglect and financial exploitation. In the majority of reported cases, older persons are abuse in their own homes or in institutional settings by people who are the closest to them like family members, friends and caregivers.
Often times, elder abuse is hard to detect but if you notice consistent changes in personality, behavior, or physical condition, you should start to question what is really going on.
Signs, among many others, that may indicate abuse are:
- Unexplained signs of injury such as bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasion or burns.
- Evidence of over or under medication and unattended medical needs.
- Sudden changes in financial situation including wills, trusts, withdrawals, credit card purchases and additional check signers or power of attorney.
- Witness threatening, controlling behavior or frequent arguments from caregivers.
- Unusual weight loss, bedsores, unsanitary conditions, or poor hygiene.
- Withdrawal from normal activities or unusual depression.
One sign does not necessarily indicate abuse but it is important to keep an eye out for any symptoms that are unusual. If being abused, they often suffer alone in silence and don’t have the ability or are scared to help themselves. If you are being abused or suspect someone you know or love is a victim, tell a doctor, friend, or family member whom you trust. You can also contact agencies and individuals who are experienced in handling these types of cases like Adult Protective Services, local law enforcement, Department on Aging or an Elder Law Attorney.
There are many things you can do for yourself or others to prevent elder abuse including listening to seniors or their caregivers, intervening if you suspect abuse, become educated and watch for warning signs. Most importantly, REPORT IT!