Elder abuse is something that we all wish never happened, but in fact it happens every day. It is very important that you learn to spot the warning signs of potential elder abuse and know what you can do if you suspect someone is abusing an elderly person in your life.
Perhaps the primary cause of elder abuse is burned out caregivers. This can be true in private, informal settings like homes or in institutions.
If a relative, neighbor, friend, or spouse is taking care of a very needy elderly person, burn out can cause the caregiver to become verbally, emotionally, or even physically abusive. Sometimes otherwise loving family members "lose it" if they are overworked and overstressed. Informal, unpaid caregivers may be sacrificing their own families or their financial wellbeing to take care of a senior who is aging in place and who may be quite unreasonable and demanding at times due to various health conditions.
If your elderly loved one is in an nstitution, be advised that more than half of the nursing homes in the U.S. are understaffed. While an understaffed facility in and of itself does not indicate abuse, you need to be aware that in a situation where there are not enough staff members, it is more likely that certain types of abuse such as neglect may occur. When too few employees are trying to stretch their attention between too many residents, it is easy for employees to begin to cut corners in the care they provide to residents. Additionally, overworked employees may begin to resent and lash out at the residents, creating situations where abuse may occur.
If an elderly person begins to show signs of physical abuse such as bruises, abrasions, or even broken bones, you should be alert and inquire as to the circumstances of the injury. Be on the lookout for unsatisfactory explanations or a pattern of injury.
While some elderly people and nursing home residents certainly do need medication, it is a sad fact that sometimes caregivers administer medication in order to control or sedate an elderly person. Be sure you know what medications your loved one is being given and why they are necessary. Do not hesitate to consult with the doctor if you have any questions.
Keep an eye on your loved one's weight and overall physical appearance. If he or she begins to lose weight, it may be an indication of neglect. While there are certainly other explanations for weight loss, you need to be vigilant and inquire as soon as you notice something. A sudden loss of weight is also a sign of cancer, so by paying close attention to your loved one's weight, you may be able to detect other conditions which otherwise might have gone unnoticed until it was too late.
If an elderly person seems like he or she is scared to discuss their condition or treatment with you, it may very well be a sign that he or she fears retaliation from a caregiver. This is especially true if the elderly person has historically been talkative and suddenly becomes quiet and withdrawn, or if he or she is open and willing to talk with you at one moment but clams up when a specific caregiver is around.
What Should You Do?
If you notice any of these signs--or any other signs that all is not well--you have a responsibility to your loved one to make sure that you follow up with the appropriate parties to ensure that no mistreatment is occurring.
If you suspect that an elderly person is in immediate danger, you should, of course, call 911. If you do not think that it is an immediate danger, but there is still a possibility of mistreatment, you might consider discussing the matter with other people who share the responsibility of ensuring the elderly person's well-being. For example, if the elderly person is a parent and you have siblings, you may consider sitting down with them and discussing your suspicions.
Once you even suspect that there is mistreatment occurring, you need to be vigilant and pay very close attention to the elderly person's demeanor and physical condition. While it is true that there are reasonable explanations for many of the warning signs discussed here, it is your responsibility to keep a close watch and make sure that the elderly person is being cared for properly.
Samadi, David. On World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Let's Review the 5 Signs for Spotting Potential Mistreatment of Seniors. Available at http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/doctor-signs-elder-abuse-article-1.2258708.