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Recognizing signs of elder abuse and what to do

Mistreatment of the elderly is a painful thought to grapple with. It is something that happens, though, and more often than we’d like to think.

The onus of protecting the older generation falls to the younger generation when they can’t protect themselves. That is why it’s so critical to know how to identify the signs of abuse or neglect, and what you can do next.

Elder abuse is growing

According to The Buffalo News, over 250,000 elderly adults are victimized in New York each year. This can range from physical abuse to neglect and even financial exploitation. Numbers are difficult to pin down, but the Office of Child and Family Services estimates $1.5 billion dollars are exploited from the elderly each year.

Maybe the most tragic aspect of these cases is that so few are formally reported. Whether it’s because they don’t realize the mistreatment is occurring, don’t know their options or are simply afraid to speak up, only an average of only one in 22 cases are ever reported.

Signs abuse is occurring

There are several signs that something may be going wrong for an elderly friend or relative. Take note of any of these circumstances, and consider intervening if they don’t improve:

  • Self-isolation – If you notice an elderly member of a social group (like a religious gathering or community center) suddenly stop attending, it may be cause for concern. Consider reaching out to make sure everything is okay.
  • Sudden confusion – An elderly friend of family member who suddenly seems to be in a fog may not be receiving the care or medication they need. Speak with them and try to work out why they are confused.
  • Personal hygiene – Daily tasks like bathing, doing laundry or changing clothes can become more difficult in advanced age. If you notice an elder’s personal hygiene depleting, they may not be receiving the care they need.
  • Physical signs – Everyone makes mistakes, and while new bruises, casts and mobility devices don’t necessarily mean an elder is being physically abused, it could be something to inquire about.

Every situation, like the people in them, are different. If you notice any of these indicators, it may not be a surefire sign of abuse or neglect, but it is something to pay attention to.

What you can do to help

There are several actions you can take as a concerned family member or friend if you think someone is being mistreated, including:

  • Observation and support – It is important not to jump to conclusions. A bruise or absence from social gatherings may be explained as easily as a harmless slip or being a homebody for a few weeks. That is one reason why simply speaking to and supporting the elders in your life is so important.
  • Maintain relationships – Keeping a relationship alive will not only keep both of your spirits up, it will also make your friend or relative more comfortable with the prospect of confiding any new problems to you.
  • Speak with community members – If you regularly attend community events with an elderly friend or relative, take time to speak with the people who run them. Expanding your social network will only be helpful for spotting potential future problems.
  • Protective services – Adult protective services is always a resource when conditions are serious. APS offers many resources for helping to keep elders safe and improving their living situations.

One of the most important things to remember when you think an elder is being mistreated is that they are people who want to be treated with dignity and respect. Approach the topic with care and don’t force them to reveal more than they are comfortable with.

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