Unfortunately, elder abuse and neglect are all too common problems for thousands of older American adults. Abuse can take place at home or in facilities and in different forms:
- Physical abuse: This not only encompasses hitting, pushing, kicking, or otherwise physically hurting an elderly person, but also the inappropriate use of drugs, restraints, and other forms of confinement. Warning signs include suspicious injuries and broken bones, bruises, and signs of being restrained. Many elders will not report physical or psychological abuse out of fear or shame.
- Emotional abuse: Emotional abuse includes insults, ridicule, threats, yelling and other forms of intimidation, isolation from others, and deliberate neglect or abandonment. Warning signs may be depression and changes in the elderly person’s personality and behavior.
- Sexual abuse: Along with unwanted sexual contact, sexual abuse also encompasses forcing the elderly person to undress, or view sexual material or sexual acts.
- Neglect: Signs of neglect include weight loss, untreated physical problems, poor hygiene and dirty or unsuitable clothing, an unsanitary living environment, and unsafe living conditions.
- Financial abuse: Financial abuse is widespread and can take the form of outright theft of money or belongings, check forgery, and identity theft. Warning signs include unusual or large bank withdrawals from the elderly person’s accounts, unpaid bills, missing medications, and suspicious changes in insurance policies, wills or other documents.
- Healthcare fraud: Healthcare fraud is also prevalent and can be committed by unscrupulous healthcare professionals. Healthcare fraud includes overcharging, double billing or false billing to Medicare or Medicaid, and charges for care that was never provided. While some billing mistakes are simply administrative errors, healthcare fraud and waste is rampant and estimated to cost tens of billions of dollars a year, per the FBI.
In many instances, an elderly person may not report abuse out of fear, intimidation, or shame. Older adults with dementia or limited cognitive abilities may be especially vulnerable. If you suspect that a client or someone you know is being abused in any way, talk privately with the person if possible to express your concerns and offer help. Many states have mandatory reporting requirements, and certain professionals are bound by law to report suspected elder abuse or neglect. In Texas, attorneys, social workers, and medical professionals are mandated reporters.
Many national, state, and local agencies can offer assistance. In Texas, for instance, Adult Protective Services (APS) investigates reports of abuse, neglect or exploitation of elderly adults or adults with disabilities, and provides education to the public about prevention of elder abuse. Anyone can call the Hotline number to report suspected abuse: (800) 252-5400 or 911. Additional resources include the National Center on Elder Abuse and the national Eldercare Locator.