How to Spot Elder Abuse
An estimated 5 million elderly adults are maltreated and exploited each year, and unfortunately, only one in five elder abuse crimes are ever discovered. Elder abuse can take various forms, such as financial exploitation, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and/or abandonment.
Oftentimes, elder abuse can be discovered at the financial level, which is considered a gateway to other forms of adult maltreatment. During a customer’s routine visit to the 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.
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.
What You Can Do
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is Thursday, June 15, 2017. In honor of this day, take the time to learn the signs of elder abuse. And, 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: abusers will lie, manipulate, and rationalize their behavior
You can help an elder abuse victim by working collaboratively with agencies such as law enforcement, 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.
Administration for Community Living. World ElderAbuse Awareness Day, June 15th. February 17, 2017. https://acl.gov/newsroom/observances/WEAAD/About.aspx (accessed March 15, 2017).
National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life. “Abuse in Later Life: Cross-training for Victim Service Providers.” Participants’ Workbook, US Department of Justice, Office on Violentce Against Women (OVW), Madison, WI, 2012.
National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life 2012