June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day; a day where we should all take the time to learn how to spot the signs of senior abuse so that we may know what to do to protect this vulnerable population. While studies have found that one in 10 older adults have experienced some form of abuse in the previous year, it is estimated that only one in 24 cases of abuse will get reported to law enforcement. When we think of abuse, most people assume that we are strictly referring to physical harm, however the other forms of elder abuse that can transpire include emotional, financial, sexual, and neglect.
The harsh reality of the situation is that most abusers of older adults are family members. In fact, the National Council on Aging found that two thirds of perpetrators are either adult children or spouses. When seniors show signs of mental impairment such as dementia or if they are more dependent on caretakers due a physical disability, they are much more likely to be abused.
Elder abuse is an extremely complex problem, and we must recognize that there are many reasons why it occurs. In addition to the pandemic putting seniors highest at risk for serious health complications due to COVID, it has also aggravated other factors that can increase abuse such as social isolation and stressors that are placed on their caretakers, especially given the recent caregiver shortage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the entire Long Term Care Industry is facing a 15-year labor low with nursing homes losing 15.2% of its total workforce since the beginning of the pandemic. This means that there could even be higher instances of unreported elder abuse that no one is aware of which is why its as crucial as ever before to pay attention with our senior communities.
Signs of senior abuse can include but are not limited to:
- Unattended medical needs
- Unsanitary living conditions and poor hygiene
- Unexplained injuries, bruises, cuts, sores or weight loss
- Changes in behavior and increased fear/anxiety
- Isolation from friends/family
- Non-responsiveness and withdrawn from usual activities
- Contradictory statements/implausible stories
- Fearful of speaking for oneself in the presence of caretaker
- Unpaid bills and unusual banking activity such as large withdrawals during a short period of time
- Caregiver's refusal to spend money on older adult
- Fraudulent signatures on powerful documents (financial, power of attorney, wills, etc.)
With June also being Internet Safety Month, it is important to note that seniors are also popular targets from scammers especially when it comes to online scams. Whether it’s a phishing email to get personal details or phone calls from someone claiming to be from a tech support company, be sure to stay in contact with your loved ones frequently so they know that they can rely on you for any issues that may arise.
If you are concerned about an older adult, even if you are remotely suspicious, be sure to report it to Adult Protective Services. It is imperative that when you file a report, you make note of any indication you have as to why you suspect abuse. Whether it’s video footage, photos, voice recordings, etc. we need to remember that any sort of evidence can be extremely helpful when authorities have to get involved because victims of abuse may not always be able to come forward.