Why should you worry about signs your elder is being abused? When you have to put an elderly parent/dependant into residential care, it’s traumatic enough and you hope that you have done everything you can to pick an excellent facility where they will be cared for and be happy. Sadly, some of these places are staffed by people who prey on the fragility and vulnerability of the residents in their care. Worse still, the reported number of cases of abuse of the elderly in care homes is increasing. These are signs your elder is being abused to look out for. And please remember, it isn’t just elders in residential care; it applies equally to those who receive at-home care, and not just your relatives, but neighbors too.
This is the most obvious of the signs your elder is being abused. Of course, some people are naturally injury-prone so establish how the injury occurred. If it sounds implausible or if there are too many injuries, abuse could be the issue. Look for bruises and welts as well as cuts and abrasions, minor sprains, broken bones and signs of restraint. Broken or damaged eyeglasses are an additional sign.
Poor personal hygiene can be a sign of neglect, especially if your elder needs assistance with basic tasks like washing and dressing. If they appear unwashed or unkempt, hair hasn’t been brushed or teeth cleaned, this is cause for concern. Also check clothing: are they appropriately dressed for the season/weather? If the person is receiving at-home care, check that their living conditions are hygienic too and that there are no-excessive signs of disrepair and neglect.
You don’t need to be a healthcare practitioner to spot the signs of medical abuse. The practical thing to check for is whether your elder has the necessary aids for day-to-day living such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, and walking canes or frames. Less obvious is lack or food or malnutrition, so ask if they have enough to eat, and watch for unhealthy weight loss. Other signs your elder is being abused is an unsuitable bed and pressure sores. Also, establish that any medication routine has been properly established and is being maintained.
It’s important to know the difference between your elder being a crotchety old man/woman and them having a strained relationship with a caregiver. It helps if they like their caregiver but at the very least, they should trust and feel comfortable with them. Watch for strains in the relationship between the carers and the care-recipient. If multiple carers are involved, one relationship may stand out. Look out for arguments, tension and signs of lack of co-operation. Watch for signs that the caregiver is aggressive or uncaring. Dropping by unexpectedly is always a good option because unannounced visits puts anyone who is not providing the proper care on the back foot (and gives no time for them to cover their tracks by getting your elder ready to greet visitors).
As an elderly person adapts to a new or different environment, it’s reasonable to expect some minor changes in personality or behavior. Major or uncharacteristic changes however, are cause for concern. Some things to note include: withdrawal or isolation from others; fear, being startled easily, anxiousness and nervousness; mood swings, depression or apathy; reporting lack of sleep and/or nightmares; and avoiding eye contact. Other physical signs might be what are known as regression behaviors – sucking thumbs or rocking. Also, listen to psychosomatic complaints and any seemingly minor gripes about abuse or neglect.
Another sign of abuse or neglect is what is known as inappropriate abandonment. This might mean your elder being left on their own for long periods, being confined to their room or bed, or even being left alone in public places.
It’s important to remember that abuse of the elderly isn’t confined to physical or mental/emotional abuse. Financial abuse of the elderly is a very real issue. This is a whole subject matter in itself and there is a laundry list of signs to watch out for – I will be producing a separate article on this – so this is just a heads up to bring the issue to your attention.
If you notice these signs your elder is being abused, you have a responsibility to act. Document your suspicions and take photographs of injuries, living conditions and anything else that corroborates your concerns. Then, report it to the appropriate authorities. Abuse is a crime irrespective of the age of the victim!
I hope you never have to deal with this issue but as you grow older, so will your loved ones and as time goes on, they will become more reliant on your love and concern. Something to think on – yes?
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