At first the signs of misusing an elder’s finances may seem quite innocuous. An unpaid bill. A purchase of an item the older person does not need. Signs of physical harm to an elder may be dismissed as “she fell” or “he ran his wheelchair into the table.”
To help move the painful reality of neglect and abuse of the elderly from a once-taboo topic to transparent discussions across the globe, the United Nations (UN) in 2011 established June 15 as the annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Maltreatment of elders is typically unreported with a prevalence rate estimated around 5 percent. The exploitation of an elder may include:
- Neglect—Failure to provide food, shelter, medical care or protection.
- Abandonment—Desertion by a person charged with care or custody.
- Exploitation—Illegal theft, misuse or concealment of an elder’s money, property or assets.
- Physical Abuse—Infliction of bodily pain or injury (i.e. bruising, slapping, restraint, etc.).
- Sexual Abuse—Any kind of non-consensual sexual contact.
- Emotional Abuse—Verbal or nonverbal actions that inflict pain or distress, including humiliation, threats and intimidation.
Although mistreatment of an elder may not always be obvious, the following are warning signs that could help uncover a deeper problem:
- Unexplained withdrawal from regular activities
- Changes in mood or lingering depression
- Abrasions, bruises, pressure marks, burns or broken bone
- Unusual bank account activity or unfamiliar signatures on checks and legal documents
- Lapsed personal care and hygiene
- Poor nutrition, or weight loss/gain
Who is at most risk? Elders who are isolated, lonely or know little about their assets or who have recently suffered losses or exhibit decreased mental and physical abilities.
The World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is an invitation for all nations to better equip families, health care providers and social service sectors to identify and engage in solutions for the long overlooked and undiagnosed problem, creating a life of love and respect for all.
How can you safeguard your elder from any type of neglect or abuse?