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What are the subtle signs pointing to elder abuse?

Sharine Forbes
Geriatric Medicine

If you feel that there may be evidence of elder abuse it is important to call 911 immediately or call the elder abuse hotline at 1-800-677-1116 so that action can be taken to protect the victim.

Some of the most common signs that physical abuse is occurring are bruises, welts, unusual skin tears, and burns. Most common signs of emotional abuse are a sudden loss of interest in activities and hobbies. The signs of sexual abuse can include bruises or lesions around the genitals. Signs of financial abuse include a sudden inability to pay for the necessities, when they were able to before. Neglect towards an elder is best identified by poor hygiene, weight loss and bedsores. 

Signs of elder abuse can be very subtle, particularly if you see the elder every day and so do not notice slow changes. Things to be alert for are newly appearing behaviors such as:

  • Quietness
  • Lack of direct eye contact
  • Fidgeting
  • Hesitancy as if looking for permission
  • Social isolation
  • Unwillingness to participate in favorite activities
  • Thinning, lusterless hair
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of interest in food
  • Loss of personal possessions with no explanation
  • Demeaning self
  • Leaving an otherwise favored person out of the conversation
  • Complaints by caregivers of unruly behavior not demonstrated in your presence
  • Telling fabricated stories while still in touch with reality on other topics
  • etc., because no list is inclusive absolutely.

Other not so subtle changes will be obvious. The cuts, bruises, black eyes are pretty substantial. Physical symptoms due to too much or too little medication can also be obvious. 

 

Sometimes, there are struggles and sometimes, there is abuse.
Or, the new helper may have ill intent.
Maybe, if there is more than one person caring for the elder, different stories emerge about what is happening. This too may be a clue that something is amiss, particularly if you notice the issuing of threats, such as taking away treats like television or game time, or humiliation and bullying.
If there is tension, look into what's happening. It may be time for a change of caregivers.
You spend your whole live being your own person.
You wake up, take a shower, get dressed and drive where you need to go.
Then old age kicks in, you become a senior citizen and, many times, you are no longer able to take care of yourself the way you used to and need the help of others.
That can be a volatile situation for all involved.
You may become resentful to those who help you. There may be conflicts between family and someone new in the senior's life who has suddenly arrived to "help."
This is a time to for loved ones to be wary.
Sometimes, the senior will become testy, frustrated that he or she has to rely on the kindness of others. Sometimes, there are struggles and sometimes, there is abuse.
Or, the new helper may have ill intent.
Maybe, if there is more than one person caring for the elder, different stories emerge about what is happening. This too may be a clue that something is amiss, particularly if you notice the issuing of threats, such as taking away treats like television or game time, or humiliation and bullying.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.