On its web site, the Mayo Clinic lists explicit signals of elder abuse. It's a useful tool for families, caregivers and loved ones who suspect wrongdoing in the care of an elderly relative either dependent and/or helpless to care for him or herself.
The Clinic lists five types of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, financial and neglect. The first two are self-explanatory. However, emotional entails gray areas such as harassment, insults, intimidation and threats. Financial abuse can be misuse of power of attorney and identity fraud. Neglect can be deprivation of food, water medicine and even physical hygiene.
The site says family abusers are "typical" culprits and that the elderly (80 and over), especially women, are more vulnerable to abuse. Those with dementia or Alzheimer's who are totally dependent upon others for care are prime abuse targets.
The Mayo Clinic lists the following symptoms as bellwethers of abuse:
- Physical injury. Besides the obvious signs, such as bruises or burns, keep an eye on behavioral changes.
- Lack of physical care. Poor hygiene, dehydration and weight loss are signs of deficient care. Pressure sores and dirty linens are serious indicators of abuse. If your loved one has had a hip injury for example and is bedridden, caregivers must regularly "turn" or re-position the person regularly in his or her bed to avoid prolonged pressure or friction to certain skin areas. These areas can include protruding areas of the body such as elbows and heels but also thighs, calves and buttocks.
- Unusual behaviors. Withdrawal, fear, anxiety, apathy are abnormal behavioral signs that could signal more serious problems.
- Unaccounted for financial changes. Watch for sudden transfers of assets, missing valuables or a loved one's resistance to your checking their financial records.
When it's time to take action, the Mayo Clinic advises the following steps:
Elder abuse at home: Call the police in an emergency or at least contact welfare and social services. Most jurisdictions investigate elder abuse. In addition, contact the Adult Protective Services, which is responsible for investigating domestic elder abuse.
Elder abuse in a nursing facility: Contact your long term care ombudsman. Each state has a long term care ombudsman to investigate nursing home complaints. The National Center on Elder Abuse also provides hotline numbers by state for emergency assistance.