Each year, hundreds of thousands of elders are abused, neglected, or exploited. These victims are frail, vulnerable, and unable to help themselves. They depend on others for their basic needs. Abusers can be men or women. They can be a family member, friend, or simply someone who is trusted by the senior. The term “elder abuse” can legally mean any of the following:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
Legislative bodies in all 50 states have passed legislation regarding elder abuse and its prevention. Inflicting physical pain on a senior through slapping, bruising, or restraining is abuse. Emotional abuse is just as powerful. It can take the form of abandonment, leaving an older person on their own when they are in need of regular help. Or it could be just the opposite; the abuser is always present, controlling, inflicting humiliation or intimidation through the use of threats, or degradation.
There are those who directly exploit older people. Family members charged with the finances of their older loved ones may use the credit card for their own expenses. A gambler or a drug addict will run the accounts dry with their frequent spending. Debt collectors will begin calling the senior, demanding payments for things the senior never even knew about. Increasingly, seniors are aging in place.
For some, this necessitates a caregiver, or a family member to provide regular services. Meal preparation, trips to the drugstore, and simple company to sit and talk with are all very real needs of older people who cannot get up and move around as they did in younger years. To leave these seniors to themselves is in of itself neglect. For example, if a senior cannot lift themselves out of bed, they can’t go to the bathroom and they can’t take their prescription medication that sits on the counter by the sink.
The signs of elder abuse may be readily apparent; changes in a senior’s mood, frequent arguments with the caregiver or particular family members will be obvious. However, too frequently the suffering from elder abuse takes place in silence. It is important to remain closely connected to the senior in question, developing a relationship in which they will be willing to divulge potentially embarrassing details. When abuse occurs it can be stopped. Be alert, keep an eye out for emotional or physical changes in the senior you love. It’s like they say in the big cities, if you see something, say something.