Health & Fitness

Signs to watch for in elder abuse cases

Actor and elder abuse victim advocate Mickey Rooney gives emotional testimony before a 2011 Senate Special Committee on Aging titled “Ending Neglect Financial Elder Abuse" on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Actor and elder abuse victim advocate Mickey Rooney gives emotional testimony before a 2011 Senate Special Committee on Aging titled “Ending Neglect Financial Elder Abuse" on Capitol Hill in Washington. AFP/Getty Images File Photo

We often wonder what we would do if we saw a child being abused, but have you ever considered what actions you can take to prevent the abuse of seniors? Elder abuse affects hundreds of thousands of Americans each year.

Like children, adults who are dependent on others are at risk for abuse and neglect. Elder abuse can be physical, sexual, as well as emotional. In addition, neglect and financial exploitation of dependent adults can be considered a form of abuse.

Elderly individuals are more likely to suffer from medical illnesses, cognitive loss and dementia, as well as other physical limitations due to aging. When suffering from these impairments, it may make it difficult for the elderly to demonstrate good decision making, leading to financial exploitation.

Elderly dependent adults who cannot care for themselves and are functionally dependent on others for their day-to-day care must trust and rely on caregivers for help. In-home caregivers, caregivers in long-term care facilities and others who care for the elderly can pose a risk. The abuse of older individuals can occur by strangers, but it is most commonly at the hands of family and loved ones.

Many family caregivers have limited support when providing help to elderly loved ones. Caregivers who are isolated and have the greatest perceived burden of care suffer increased rates of depression and other physical and emotional illnesses. These caregivers may be at higher risk to abuse elderly loved ones. Providing support and professional help when a caregiver needs it may be key in helping to prevent abuse.

As with child abuse, it is crucial that anyone who suspects elder abuse report it to the proper agencies to protect our most vulnerable. For more information on reporting elder abuse, contact Elder Care at 1-800-677-1116 or visit www.eldercare.gov.

Elizabeth Crocco, M.D., is chief of geriatric psychiatry at the University of Miami Health System. To learn more, visit umiamihospital.com/specialties/psychiatry.

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Signs of Elder Abuse

▪  Bruising, broken bones, pressure marks, burns

▪  Dirty clothes, soiled diapers, bedsores, weight loss

▪  Social withdrawal, nervousness, isolation

▪  Sexually transmitted disease, difficulty walking, bruising or bleeding in the genital area

▪  Unpaid bills, unusual purchases, frequent cash withdrawals, unusual credit card use

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