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Elder Abuse Infographic: Tips For Families To Identify Cases Of Elder Abuse

Types of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse can be physical, sexual, psychological/emotional, financial/material, healthcare fraud or neglect. Perpetrators may include spouses, family or health care providers. Neglect can be active or passive, with the perpetrator either deliberately not helping the elder or failing to recognize their needs.

Number of Cases

There were about 5.9 million cases in 2010. The median age of victims is 77.9 years, and over two thirds of victims are women.

Racial Breakdown

Victims cut across all racial lines. Approximately two thirds are white, one fifth black, one tenth Hispanic and five percent other races.

Breakdown by Abuse Type

Neglect is the most common type of elder abuse, occurring in nearly 60% of all cases. Physical abuse is indicated in about 16% of cases, financial abuse in about 12% and emotional/psychological abuse in about 7%. Sexual abuse of the elderly is rare, occurring only once in every 2500 total abuse cases, although it is devastating for those involved. About two thirds of elder abuse is perpetrated by adult children or spouses. Of all murder victims over age 60, 42% were killed by their own children and 24% by their spouses.

Help Identifying Situations Involving Elder Abuse

Each type of abuse has its own characteristic warning signs. Observers should be aware of the elder’s baseline health and behavior and watch for some of these changes.

Physical – unexplained injuries, especially those that are symmetric on both sides of the body; broken bones, sprains or dislocations; broken eyeglasses; drug overdoses or under doses; signs of restraint such as rope marks; refusal of the caregiver to allow private visits with the elder.

Emotional – threatening or controlling behavior from the caregiver; withdrawal or dementia-like behavior from the elder such as mumbling, sucking or rocking.

Sexual – bruises around sex organs; unexplained bleeding; torn or stained underclothing; unexplained venereal disease or infections.

Neglect – unusual weight loss, malnutrition or dehydration; untreated sores or other conditions; unsafe or unsanitary living conditions, including bugs, soiled bedding and clothing, lack of utilities and fire hazards; dirty or unbathed appearance; clothing unsuitable for the weather; abandonment in a public place.

Financial – withdrawals from the elder’s accounts; changes in financial condition; missing cash or items; impossible activity, such as ATM withdrawals; suspicious changes to documents such as wills, policies, or power of attorney; names added to signature cards; unpaid bills or lack of services provided even though enough funds are available; unnecessary goods and services.

Healthcare Fraud – duplicate billings; inadequate care when bills are paid; over medication or under medication; problems with the health care facility, poorly trained staff, crowded conditions, inadequate answers to questions.

Seniors Particularly At Risk for Being Victims of Elder Abuse

Social isolation and dementia, both more common among seniors, greatly increase the risk of abuse. Dependency is an important factor that can work both ways, with the elder often depending on the abuser for daily needs and/or the abuser depending on the victim for shelter, food or money. 

A caregiver or responsible party with addictions or mental health issues indicates a particularly high risk of abuse. Victims experience a wide and deep range of unpleasant emotions such as shame, fear, embarrassment, anxiety, withdrawal and depression.

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