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Elder Abuse - Topic Overview

Risk factors for elder abuse

Abuse of elders is a complex problem with many contributing factors. Risk factors include:

  • Domestic violence carried over into the elder years. A substantial number of elder abuse cases are abuse by a spouse.
  • Personal problems of caregivers. People who abuse older adults (particularly their adult children) are often dependent on the older person for financial help and other support. This is often due to personal problems such as mental illness or other dysfunctional personality traits. The risk of elder abuse seems highest when these adult children live with the older person.
  • Social isolation. Caregivers and family members who live with an older person have the opportunity to abuse and often attempt to isolate the older person from others to prevent the abuse from being discovered.

Signs of elder abuse

Signs and symptoms of elder abuse vary widely depending on the type of abuse.

  • Signs that an older person is the victim of acts of violence may include:
    • Bruises, black eyes, welts, lacerations, rope marks, cuts, punctures, or untreated injuries in various stages of healing.
    • Broken bones, including the skull.
    • Sprains, dislocations, or internal injuries.
    • Broken eyeglasses or dentures.
    • Signs of being restrained.
    • Laboratory reports of overdose or underuse of medicines.
    • Reports from the older adult of being physically mistreated.
    • An older person's sudden change in behavior.
    • A caregiver's refusal to allow visitors to see an older person alone.
  • Symptoms of possible sexual abuse include bruises around the breasts or genital area, unexplained venereal disease or genital infections, unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding, underclothing that is torn or stained, and reports from the older person of being sexually assaulted.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse is possible if the older person appears emotionally upset or agitated; acts withdrawn or is noncommunicative, nonresponsive, or paranoid; exhibits unusual behavior including sucking, biting, and rocking; or if he or she reports being verbally or emotionally mistreated.
  • Signs of neglect may include dehydration, malnutrition, untreated health problems, pressure ulcers, poor personal hygiene, hazardous or unsanitary living conditions, and reports from the older person of being mistreated.
  • Abandonment includes the desertion of an older person at a hospital, nursing facility, shopping center, or other public location.
  • Signs of financial exploitation include sudden changes in a bank account or banking practice, such as unexplained withdrawals of large amounts of money; additional names on an older person's bank card; abrupt changes in a will or other financial document; disappearance of funds or valuable possessions; unpaid bills or substandard care despite the availability of funds; evidence of the older person's signature being forged; the sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives; payment for unnecessary services; and reports from the older person of financial exploitation.
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