Baylor expert identifies signs of elder abuse

  |  Source: Baylor University

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WACO—About 5 million older adults in the United States are abused, neglected or exploited each year, according to the Administration for Community Living, and a Baylor University gerontology expert wants people to know how to identify elder abuse.

Family members, hospital staff and law enforcement submit most reports of abuse, said James Ellor, professor in Baylor’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.

But churches and other organizations also should be diligent, he said, noting clergy are considered mandatory reporters in many states.

“No one group of caring persons can solve this problem alone. It takes a community of caring lay and professional leaders to even try to start to make a difference,” Ellor said. “If signs are noticeable, the next steps will depend on the type of abuse. In most cases, counseling support is critical, but often the need for medical help or legal help is also very important.”

Elder abuse—intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or trusted individual—comes in many forms. They include neglect or isolation, physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation or financial abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, verbal abuse and threats.

  • Physical abuse may be identified by odd bruising, broken bones or contusions that are not easily explained. One sign that quickly raises suspicion is when broken bones or bruises happen repeatedly. Drug overdoses or the withholding of drugs are also challenging.
  • Emotional abuse could include yelling at the senior, humiliating him or her, blaming and/or scapegoating.
  • Sexual abuse is contact without consent. “We see this often between spouses, particularly when one spouse has dementia,” Ellor said.
  • Neglect is possibly one of the most common types of abuse, Ellor noted. “It simply means not taking the time to respond to a wide variety of needs when one is the designated caregiver,” he said.
  • Financial exploitation may take a variety of forms. “Laws governing guardianship and power of attorney try to address this, but family members who take money from seniors as cash or property are the most common culprits,” Ellor explained.
  • Fraud can involve financial exploitation or even heath care fraud, but it generally involves either over-charging, selling unnecessary benefits of something, or it may include trying to sell something that would benefit one’s children.
  • Self-neglect also is a form of elder abuse. “Some seniors simply choose to not help themselves, often in the name of leaving money or property to family members,” Ellor said. “Evidence of this could be that they don’t purchase needed medications or other resources.”

Report suspected mistreatment to local adult protective services, long-term care ombudsman or law enforcement agencies that can investigate the situation, Ellor urged.

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