Sad old womanElder abuse can take many forms – neglect, physical abuse, emotional bullying, financial exploitation, even sexual abuse – and it happens more often than you might suspect. Older adults become increasingly vulnerable as their physical and/or mental abilities decline. Much of the time the abuser is a member of the senior’s family, but it can also come from paid caregivers, “professional” con artists who befriend a gullible elder and scam them, or it may take place in institutional settings.

It’s important to remember that sometimes the signs of abuse are not obvious. The abuser, or even the senior, may explain it as their frailty or dementia, or may give some other reason that seems logical. Sometimes that explanation is the truth, but as Edmund Burke said in the 18th century, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Look for these signs:

1. Physical abuse:

  • Bruises or untreated open wounds, especially if they appear on both sides of the body (as would happen when someone gives a one-two punch)
  • Broken bones, sprains, or dislocated joints
  • Broken eyeglasses or damage to canes and other assistant devices
  • Marks on wrists or ankles that could be signs of physical restraint.
  • Over-medication

2. Emotional abuse:

  • A sudden change in the senior’s behavior or personality
  • Behavior that indicates fear, such as cringing, or emotional withdrawal.
  • Behavior that mimics dementia, such as rocking or mumbling to themselves
  • Frequent arguments or tension between the elder and their caregiver(s)
  • Threatening, scornful or intimidating behavior by the caregiver

3. Caregiver neglect or self-neglect:

  • Undernourishment, unusual weight loss, or dehydration
  • Poor hygiene
  • Under-medication (more pills than there should be in the prescription bottle)
  • Untreated illness or problems such as bedsores or urine smells
  • Unsanitary or unsafe living conditions

4. Financial exploitation:

  • Sudden changes in their standard of living
  • Discrepancies between their known assets and their living conditions
  • Missing jewelry, personal property or cash
  • Suspicious changes in wills, powers of attorney, or other legal documents
  • Unpaid bills or lack of medical care when they should be able to afford them

5. Healthcare abuse or fraud in a care facility:

  • Inadequate staff in numbers or training
  • Duplicate billings for medical services
  • Evidence of overcrowding, sub-par care or outright neglect
  • Insufficient responses to questions about billings or care
  • Billing for services that were obviously never performed

6. Sexual abuse:

  • Bruises around the breasts or genital areas
  • Genital infections or venereal disease
  • Vaginal or anal bleeding that is not from disease
  • Difficulty walking or standing
  • Torn, stained or bloody underwear

This list is not comprehensive, but it would be impossible to list every possible indication of abuse. The reasons and situations for senior abuse are as varied as the families that experience it. Psychological, physical and economic factors all can contribute.

The signs above are not definitive proof that abuse is occurring, but they do indicate some kind of problem that needs to be looked into. Being able to recognize the signs that abuse might be occurring means you can help prevent it and perhaps help alleviate the suffering of a loved-one, friend, or neighbor by reporting suspected abuse.

To report elder abuse in Arizona:

In a life-threatening emergency dial 9-1-1

Adult Protective Services, Adult Abuse Hotline: (877) 767-2385

Area Agency on Aging – 24-hour Senior HELPLINE: (602) 264-4357

For more information and to report abuse: www.azdes.gov/reportadultabuse

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