Abuse of elders does is not something most people think about unless it’s a huge news story. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could willfully harm an elder, but the problem is so widespread that it’s a near-epidemic. Who is most at risk? Elders with dementia.
More than 5 million older Americans have reportedly experienced some form of abuse, neglect or financial exploitation, with future incidents only expected to increase as the population continues to age. It’s also believed that only one in 23 elder abuse cases is actually reported. This leaves the vast majority of cases unreported. Nearly one-in-two, or 47 percent, of elders with dementia have been abused, according to the University of California, Irvine Center on Elder Abuse and Neglect.
The reason is as simple as it is appalling: Elders with dementia often struggle with communication and memory, making them easy targets. Plus, common reactions to abuse, such as isolation and extreme changes in behavior, can look like symptoms of dementia.
There are ways you can protect the elders in your life:
Recognize Different Types of Abuse
Look for Warning Signs
- Unexplained injuries, like bruises, welts, abrasions and broken bones
- Unusual weight loss, malnutrition or dehydration
- Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities
- Isolation, depression, despondence or other distinct changes in behavior
- Missing cash or valuable items
- Sudden changes in an older adult’s financial situation
- Bedsores, unattended medical needs or poor hygiene
- Being left dirty or unbathed
- Unsuitable clothing or covering for the weather
- Inappropriate prescription of antipsychotics
Report, Report, Report
Abuse can occur anywhere, including at home and in care settings. The most effective way to combat it is to report it. You do not have to prove it is occurring. Trained professionals will investigate and determine if it is. You can report abuse online or call 800-962-2873 in Florida. If you are not in Florida, we have a comprehensive list of phones numbers to help you report abuse in any state.
The risk of abuse also can be reduced through legal protections such as guardianship or injunctions. Each state has unique laws designed to protect their elderly citizens. Do not wait to ask questions about your older loved one’s rights, especially if you are concerned that he or she may be the victim of abuse.