(BlackDoctor.org) — As the American population ages, the issue of elder abuse is something of which we should all be aware. And while elder abuse is a growing problem in some segments of the population, many of us may be unaware of some of the signs that abuse may be occurring. Looking out for our elderly neighbors, friends and family members is a societal and community responsibility, so knowing some of the basics can be a helpful starting point.
What Is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse is an intentional or negligent act by any person that causes harm or the risk of harm to a vulnerable elderly individual. The broad categories of abuse are as follows:
Physical abuse: This can pertain to the infliction (or threat of infliction) of bodily harm, including depriving an elderly person of basic needs such as food, water, or adequate clothing. Note: Even the mere threat of harm still constitutes abuse.
Sexual abuse: Sexual contact of any kind that occurs without consent is a form of sexual abuse.
Financial abuse: A very common form of elder abuse that pertains to any aspect of the elder’s finances, including the withholding of funds, extortion, exploitation and other ways in which an elder can be taken advantage of financially.
Emotional abuse: This type of abuse involves the infliction of mental pain or distress of any kind. Withdrawal of affection or withholding of visits from grandchildren could constitute abuse in certain circumstances.
Neglect: As mentioned under physical abuse, the intentional withholding of food, clothing, shelter, medical care or other necessities of life is a form of abuse.
Abandonment: This form of abuse involves the desertion of a vulnerable elder by an individual who has assumed responsibility for that elder.
The Signs of Abuse
Some forms of abuse are easier to spot than others, so in some circumstances it can take a discerning ear or eye to uncover the presence of abuse.
Physical: Physical signs of abuse may include cuts, bruises, burns, broken bones, bedsores, as well as dehydration, unexplained weight loss, and poor hygiene. The abused or neglected elder may miss medical appointments, and have health maintenance needs that are left unmet for long periods of time. Prescriptions may go unfilled, and quality or availability of food may be impacted.
Behavioral : When emotional abuse is present, watch the elder for unusual signs of meekness, lack of eye contact, depression, anxiety, or extremely withdrawn behavior. Due to the mental decline that can occur with many elders, this form of abuse can be difficult to detect.