Elder abuse is a general term that refers to a single or repeated act (or lack of appropriate action) that causes harm or distress to an older person. Normally, there is an expectation of trust between the elder and the offender. The elder may rely on the person for care and support, but instead receives neglect. Unfortunately, elder abuse is common, and the number of reported cases are probably only a fraction of the actual number of incidences.

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Financial abuse of an elderly person includes illegal use of that person’s property or money. It can also mean forging their signature on a document or getting the elderly person to sign a Deed, Will, or Power of Attorney through unjust means. Scams and crimes committed that take advantage of an elderly person’s decreased awareness or potential disability for some sort of financial benefit are also considered elder abuse.  

Medical abuse of an elderly person includes failure to provide medical services and neglecting to provide basic care and needs. The elderly demographic is the most reliant on medical providers, and often times, they are unable to help themselves. Many seniors may require continued nursing and medical assistance and are on multiple medications. Failure to provide these services or delivering the wrong prescription or aid can also be considered abuse.

Unfortunately, physical abuse of an elder is more common than most people would think as well. Physical abuse is any force that causes a person injury or pain. This includes striking, hitting, beating, shoving, or any action that you feel uncomfortable witnessing. Physical abuse also can mean tying down an elder with unnecessary or brutal restraints that limit movement. This can lead to muscle atrophy and further degeneration of the muscles. Anything that can leave bruises, black eyes, welts, cuts, broken bones, or other sorts of wounds can be considered physical abuse.

Sexual abuse is any unwanted sexual contact or action. This can include any solicitation, touching, assault, or rape. Elderly people are vulnerable targets because they are frail. They also may not report an incident because of shame and fear of retaliation by the accused. Seniors with dementia may not even be able to give consent or remember the sexual conduct.

Emotional abuse also happens to elderly victims. Any sort of insult, threat, intimidation, humiliation, or harassment can be considered emotional abuse. Caregivers should always be kind and respectful to elderly patients. They should not rebuke them for soiling themselves, for example, or for being slow to react. Any tension in the relationship between the caregiver and the patient can be identified through emotional agitation or fear toward certain individuals, unusual behavior, or emotional withdrawal.

It’s hard to understand why anyone would abuse an elderly person, but cases of elder abuse often involve a financial motivation for the abuser. Sometimes the abuser is an insensitive family member, trying to gain what is “rightfully” theirs or trying to prevent the sick relative from using their inheritance. Other individuals may try to become close to an elderly person by telling them that they love and care for them, with the actual motive of accessing the elderly person’s personal information and money.  Business people can also take advantage of the elderly by overcharging or being dishonest with their business practices.  

Moreover, the elderly are easier targets for abuse because of their declining health and mental states. They often suffer from ailments such as dementia, that may cause them to lose their memory and subsequently be taken advantage of. They may also feel lonely or unwanted, which may increase the need for attachment, even if it means clinging to an abusive caregiver.

Elder abuse often goes unreported because of mental or physical inabilities as well as embarrassment and shame about the abuse. Whether the abuse is intentional or unintentional, if you suspect elder abuse, it is your duty to report it to Adult Protective Services in your state. You may also wish to speak to an attorney.

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