Like Domestic Violence, Elder Abuse can take many forms. The person causing harm can be a family member, a caretaker, or a stranger; the abuse might be physical, financial, sexual, or involving neglect; it might happen at home, in a care facility or hospital, or anywhere else. The one unifying feature is that a person is using their power over an elderly person to control them and cause them harm.
The National Council on Aging reports that while 10% of Americans over the age of 60 have experienced a form of elder abuse, only 7% reported the situation to authorities. Often those who experience elder abuse are dependent in some way on the person causing them harm, whether that’s because of physical or mental disabilities, financial concerns, or social isolation. If the person causing harm is a primary caretaker, the person being harmed might be afraid that they will face retaliation or abandonment if they say something. If the person causing harm is a family member, the survivor might not report abuse due to a sense of family loyalty, fear that the family will side with the person causing them harm, or fear that they will be moved to a facility where they will be even more isolated. Because people are often hesitant to report Elder Abuse, it is important to learn to recognize warning signs of abuse.
A person experiencing Elder Abuse might show a change in behavior, becoming withdrawn, anxious, irritable, or depressed. They might have unexplained bruises and injuries that don’t seem to go away over time. They may have weight loss or show a decrease in hygiene, wearing stained or dirty clothes and looking messy and unkempt. They might have a sudden change in their financial stability, have important documents go missing, or have a family member or friend show up who is suddenly able to afford a lifestyle they couldn’t before.
It’s also important to recognize the signs of a person who is causing harm to an elderly person. This can be a family member, friend, caretaker, or stranger. They might isolate the elderly person, keeping them away from friends and family and insisting on accompanying them wherever they go so they can answer questions or speak for them. They might also dismiss the older individual as senile and insist that they know best.
Changes to our mental and physical abilities are a natural part of aging. As we get older, we often need to trust our support networks to step in and help out a little more. Elder abuse is a fundamental betrayal of this trust—a person takes advantage of the fact that someone is dependent on their support and abuses their position of power. This Elder Abuse Awareness Month, join WTLC in taking responsibility for the well-being of the elderly—make a commitment to take notice, ask questions, and advocate on behalf of the older members of our community.