An estimated 16 percent of people aged 60 and older experience a form of elder abuse, and with only approximately one in 24 cases being reported, this is likely an underestimation. Elder abuse can take various forms, such as financial exploitation, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and/or abandonment. While rates of elder abuse are higher in senior institutions like nursing homes and long-term care facilities, it can happen anywhere and by anyone close to the senior, so it’s important you are able to spot the signs of elder abuse and know how to take action.

Elder abuse can often be discovered at the financial level, which is considered a gateway to other forms of adult maltreatment. During a customer’s routine visit to a branch, tellers and bankers may notice uncharacteristic purchases at the account level or see that the person or caregiver bringing them to the bank is speaking on behalf of the elderly customer. Bruises, burns or red markings on exposed skin may be indicators of physical abuse.

Family members and other individuals close to a senior can also play a big role in spotting and reporting elder abuse. Here’s an overview of how elder abuse works and how to report it.

How Elder Abuse Works

Similar to other types of abuse, the abuser’s purpose is to gain power and control over his or her victim. This can be done by misleading other family members regarding the elder’s condition or excluding the victim from family. By isolating the victim, the abuser can control what the elder does and who he or she sees. The abuser may also withhold access to communications like phone or email.

Emotional abuse happens when the abuser yells at, insults and degrades the victim, leaving the elder feeling vulnerable. The abuser will target those vulnerabilities and may refuse transportation or deny food, heat, care or medication. The abuser may threaten to leave or commit suicide, displays or threatens with weapons, or may abuse pets. Using financial exploitation, by stealing money or possessions or abusing power of attorney or conservatorship, is an effective way abusers take power and control over the elderly.

Signs of elder abuse include physical signs (like malnourishment, skin markings), emotional signs (like anxiety, confusion) and financial signs (unexplained transactions and loss of money)

What You Can Do

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day takes place on June 15th each year. In honor of this day, take the time to learn the signs of elder abuse. If someone you know exhibits signs of abuse, use the following steps to focus on the victim’s safety:

  • Actively listen to their concerns, even if they seem illogical.
  • Be aware of and avoid assumptions and stereotypes. This goes for all parties.
  • Recognize abuse tactics, and keep in mind that abusers will lie, manipulate, and rationalize their behavior.
  • If you suspect elder abuse, report it immediately to the Iowa Department of Human Services or your state’s DHS organization.

Other organizations you can work collaboratively with to help a victim of elder abuse include law enforcement agencies, adult protective services, aging network professionals, domestic violence and/or sexual assault advocates, and health care providers.

No one is exempt from abuse. It can happen to anyone. Know the signs and be prepared.

Next steps:

  1. Read more of our Security articles.
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