by Christian Wilson
When I was much younger, my father and my uncles were forced to put my grandfather into a nursing home. It wasn’t something that any of them wanted to do, but, due to the nature of my family’s financial circumstances and my grandfather’s medical situation, it was the only option available to us at the time. For three months, everything was fine—until my grandfather’s belongings started disappearing.
At first my father and his brothers didn’t think anything of it. My grandfather had Alzheimer’s, and had been known to misplace things before. When grandpa started to complain that his possessions were never where he left them, we’d write off his complaints as a symptom of the disease he’d been diagnosed with almost two years earlier. It wasn’t until the nursing home called my father to inform him that one of their employees had been caught stealing from patients (and had been subsequently fired) that we finally put two and two together.
My father was furious. I’ve never seen him get so mad. It wasn’t just the fact that my grandfather had been mistreated that made my dad so angry—it was more than that. My father has always been a bit of an idealist. The idea that there were people out there who would intentionally take advantage of helpless human beings for personal gain was deeply upsetting to him.
Unfortunately, situations like the one my family found itself in are more common than many people realize. It’s not limited to financial exploitation either—the statistics concerning elderly abuse in American are absolutely staggering. According to a report by NBC News, approximately 1 in 10 senior citizens are abused or financially exploited by their caregivers.
Statistics provided by the National Center on Elderly Abuse indicate that these instances of abuse are not uniquely germane to nursing homes, assisted living or professional home care providers, either. In fact, according to the NCEA, approximately 90% of people who abuse or exploit an elderly person are a closely related to that person—usually an adult child or a spouse of the victim.
This might be why the vast majority of elderly abuse goes unreported. Oftentimes, elderly people are afraid to report abuse or exploitation because they are dependent on the person who is abusing and/or exploiting them. The under reported nature of the crime makes it difficult to spot, so it’s up to each of us to be on the lookout for signs of elderly abuse. Below, you’ll find a list of the most common types of elderly abuse, along with tips that should help you recognize elderly abuse when it happens:
1. Physical Abuse
Physical abuse includes (but is not limited to) hitting, shoving, pinching and slapping. It’s important to remember that physical abuse is not confined to acts of overt violence—it can also involve intentional over-medicating, the improper use of restraints, unnecessary isolation or physical neglect that results in malnutrition or dehydration.
Be on the lookout for scratches and bruises, as these are the most obvious signs of physical abuse. You should also be sure to pay close attention to your loved one’s mood—if they seem surly, frightened or quieter than usual, it might be because they’re being physically abused and are afraid to speak out. Signs of sexual elderly abuse include bruises around the breasts or genitals, unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding, stained or torn undergarments or unexplained venereal diseases and genital infections. If your loved one is exhibiting any of these signs, seek immediate help from the proper authorities.
2. Emotional Abuse
When people discuss the different types of abuse, they often assume that physical abuse is more harmful than emotional abuse. This is a very oversimplified way of looking at things. When it comes to abuse, there’s no way to quantify or compare different kinds of pain. There are simply ways that people should be treated and ways they shouldn’t be treated. Emotional abuse (along with physical and sexual abuse) belongs to the latter category.
Emotional abuse includes (but is not limited to) intimidation, name-calling, threats, scapegoating, neglect, forced separation from friends and family or public humiliation. Many older people feel self-conscious about reporting these kinds of bullying, fearing that they’ll be perceived as helpless or childlike if they speak out. If your loved one is deeply depressed, seems overly secretive or has frequent confrontations with a specific person, it might be an indication that he or she is being emotionally abused.
3. Sexual Abuse—
Sexual elderly abuse is any form of unwanted sexual contact between an elderly person and another person. It includes (but is not limited to) inappropriate touching, forcing an elderly person to undress and forcing an elderly person to watch or look at pornographic material. As with many other kinds of abuse, elderly people who are the target of unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate sexual advances are often uncomfortable speaking out.
4. Financial Exploitation—
The best way to prevent the financial exploitation of your elderly loved ones is to keep a careful eye on their belongings and general financial situation. If my grandfather really had been misplacing his belongings, it’s likely that less valuable items (like t-shirts, books, etc.) would have gone missing too. We weren’t paying close enough attention, and my grandfather was victimized as a result.
Don’t make the same mistake my family made. Pay attention. Make sure you know exactly who has access to your loved one’s bank account. Monitor things like debit card transactions and unpaid bills. A sudden shift in spending habits could be a potential red flag.
Remember—the majority of people are good people. There are hundreds of thousands of caregivers who want nothing but the best for their patients. This article is not intended to scare you so much as help you spot the one bad apple in the barrel. We all want the best for our loved ones and, sometimes, being properly informed is the best way to prevent a bad thing from happening.
Christian Wilson currently works in the home care industry. He writes about issues facing the elderly and spends a lot of his work day answering questions regarding home care. When he’s not at work he enjoys traveling with his family and meeting new people.
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