Today, many elders are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation in a plethora of ways. Unfortunately, an excess of these cases go unreported and unnoticed to the public. With that said, it is important to address the topic to prevent elder abuse from becoming more prevalent. This guide will address the different types of elder abuse, how to address and prevent them, and also how to avoid becoming a elderly victim of theft.
Expert Spotlight: Elder Abuse
What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse can take many different forms. Essentially, it is the infliction of physical, verbal/mental, financial, or sexual harm on an older adult. It can also take the form of neglect from a caregiver, whether it's intentional or not. Let's take a look at the varying types of elder abuse and how each can be detrimental to an older person's life.
The Different Types of Elder Abuse
Physical abuse involves a form of force to cause unnecessary injury or pain on a person. This can be anything from severe beatings to rope or chain restraining, for example. Other forms of physical abuse include but are not limited to pushing, pinching, shoving, burning, biting, drowning, and kicking. Physical abuse can be unintentional -- someone may intend to help the elder but the behavior can still be considered abusive if the action(s) taken embody any of the above. Last but not least, the inappropriate use of medications and physical restraints can also be regarded as physical abuse.
In addition to physical abuse, elder abuse can take a verbal form, which can be mentally disturbing to the victimized individual. Some forms of verbal abuse include name calling or giving the silent treatment to either intimidate or cause distress for someone. It can also take the form of cursing, yelling, or making insulting remarks. When a caregiver, family member, or even a stranger behaves in any of the above ways to cause mental anguish to an elder, it can be considered abusive. If an elderly person feels that they are being isolated or treated like a child through threats or manipulative behavior, they can also feel emotionally abused.
If an elderly person does not take full responsibility and stay aware of their own financial situation, they are more susceptible to exploitation. This can range from the inappropriate use of the older person's funds to the act of denying the individual from accessing his or her own funds or home. Fraud, forgery, forced property transfers, or the act of purchasing expensive items with the elder's money without his or her knowledge are also examples of financial abuse. Financial abuse can also take place on the telephone or face-to-face in the form of solicitation. For example, sales people or so-called friends can perpetrate scams for home repair services, health-related services, and other things that an elderly may need and be inclined to buy into.
Sexual abuse may involve the act of inappropriate touching, rape, sodomy, or coerced nudity. Forcing an elderly person to watch porn or unwanted physical sexual contact with someone else is also considered abuse. While sexual abuse is not always reported, it happens often behind closed doors.
Finding the right caregiver for the elderly people in your life is so important because caregiver neglect happens more often than you would think. Some caregivers intentionally fail to meet the social, emotional, and physical needs of an older person. Failure to provide food, water, clothing, assistance with everyday living and activities, and helping with personal hygiene are just some of many different forms of caregiver neglect. Elderly people also often need to take medications at specific times of day to maintain their health. Caregivers may purposely fail to ensure that they do so, causing the elderly to experience health complications in the long run. Some caregivers are responsible for the bills of the older person. If this is the case and they fail to pay the bills on time or use the older person's money responsibly, they are not being diligent caregivers.
Abuse is often done by others, but sometimes older adults neglect themselves too. They may refuse to go to the doctor when they clearly need to be seen, choose not to eat, or overdose on drugs and alcohol, for example. While this guide is more focused on elder abuse perpetrated by others, self neglect is also something worth noting and being aware of. If an elderly person you know practices self neglect, you or someone close to that person may want to consider stepping in and taking some necessary actions to ensure that they are cared for.
Elder Abuse: Signs to Look Out For
If you think someone you know may be a victim of elder abuse, you may want to pay close attention to some of the cues that may signal it. Some of these symptoms can give you an idea of what kind of abuse that person may be going through, which can then encourage the right path of action to take.
- Bruise marks anywhere on the body
- Rope marks on wrists and/or ankles
- Refusal to seek medical help for injuries
- Nonchalant attitude towards any of these injuries when confronted about them
- Isolated personality
- Odd changes in behavior
- Unresponsive and doesn't like to communicate with others
- Unreasonably suspicious or fearful of everyday things
- Lack of interest for social interaction
- Unusual ATM activity
- Large withdrawals from bank accounts
- Signatures on checks don't match up with the signature of the elder
- The elder's life circumstances don't match up with his or her financial assets
- Vaginal infections
- Vaginal or anal
- Bruised breasts and/or buttocks
- Torn or bloody undergarments
- Refusal to seek medical assistance when needed
- Visible weight loss
- Sunken eyes
- No basic hygiene, enough water/food, or clean clothing to wear
- Plenty of alcohol bottles laying around the house
Of course, there may be other tell-tale signs of abuse that someone may reveal, but these are some of the common cues that may signal elder abuse.
How to Reduce Elder Abuse & Assault
There are many causes that may lead to elder abuse and assault. For example, senior communities may not have enough staff members to efficiently care for all the older people that need attention. The good news is that there are many different measures one can take to curb the rates of elder abuse overall and also prevent elder assault from taking place. If you're looking for ways to reduce elder abuse, consider the following:
Have your elders stay nearby and stay close to family if possible.
Elderly individuals that feel isolated can end up getting depressed or wallowing in sadness and loneliness. They may feel unwanted, like a burden, or feel like others don't know they exist. By keeping your elders nearby, you are able to offer them assistance when you notice that they need it, or they can easily come to you for help when needed. This reduces the chance of abuse and neglect.
Keep in contact with them.
By keeping in contact with your elders regularly, you're not only able to keep tabs on their daily activities and habits, but also offer help when they need it. Getting a medical alert system can also be a good option to know that a call for help is only a button press away. Keeping a good relationship will also make the elderly person feel comfortable enough to ask for assistance when they feel they need it. You'll also be able to look out for any abnormal changes that may signal abuse.
Encourage elders to attend community events.
As people get older, they may naturally feel more isolated. Attending community events will help them keep their social life active and stay in touch with things that are important to them.
Inform them of any solicitations they should be aware of.
While scams are not targeted solely to elders, older people may be more prone to falling for them if they aren't fully aware. When elders have people keeping them informed of any solicitations going on, they are less likely to get conned by someone trying to steal their identity or money.
Don't allow the elderly to live with others who you know are or may be abusive.
This one is pretty self explanatory, but worth mentioning. Someone with a repeated history of violence or abuse will likely manifest themselves again, especially to someone who is vulnerable and weak. Keep your elders away from these people to avoid unnecessary abuse.
Make sure they stay active.
Activity is important for everyone, no matter the age. Getting enough exercise everyday will help to curb depression and activate “happy hormones.” Staying active in old age can also prolong that person's life and decrease chances for abuse.
Elders should be responsible and aware of their own finances.
While it's normal for older people to entrust another family member to help manage their finances, they should ultimately be the one in control of them. By knowing where the money is going, elders are less likely to become victims of financial abuse.
Be selective with caregivers.
Caregivers are supposed to care for the elderly, but unfortunately some will put elders at risk for financial exploitation by altering their wills, adding names to financial accounts or land titles without their knowledge, or even use their money on expensive personal items behind their backs. If possible, look for trusted people who can provide additional care for the elderly in your family. This could be other family members or very close friends. If this is not plausible and you are looking for a caregiver, you'll want to do a thorough screening, and be sure to observe how the caretaker interacts with/treats the older person. Keep close tabs on the elder's behavior and changes in mood or appearance, as these can give off signs of abuse.
Take Advantage of Support Groups
Do your research and see what kind of support groups are available for elderly people to join. If you are an elderly person yourself trying to avoid or fight abuse, it may be worthwhile to look into one near you and see if you're able to join. If you are doing the research for someone, you may inform the older person of the different options that are available to them. Support groups allow people to connect with others facing similar issues, and abuse is less likely to go unnoticed. Elderly individuals who are a part of a social circle are less likely to become victims of abuse, and they are able to speak with each other about any tensions they may have in their lives.
What is Elder Theft?
Elder theft can take many forms, but the three most common are monetary theft, identity theft, and home theft. Read on to find out more about these types of theft and how you can avoid them yourself, or help an elderly person that you know avoid them.
Different Forms of Elder Theft
According to the FTC, nine million Americans have their identities stolen yearly. There are three common types of elder theft, including monetary, identity, and home theft. Read on to find out more about each and the measures you can take to avoid them.
Financial exploitation is one of the most common forms of elder theft. Misuse or mismanagement of a senior's money and investments is a prime example of it. Monetary theft usually involves trusted people in the life of the vulnerable elder, such as caretakers, bank employees, doctors and nurses, friends, neighbors, and even the pastor. On top of this, strangers and “professionals” are constantly trying to scam people into buying into their false services or donating money to fake charities. The elderly are less familiar with some of these telemarketing scams and may buy into it as a result.
Elder theft comes with many dire consequences for the victim. The vulnerable adult may end up devastated and experience loss of trust, security, residence, and may be engulfed with feelings of fear, guilt, worthlessness, and self-doubt. If the individual is left with little to no money, he or she may have to become reliant on the government's safety net programs.
To prevent monetary theft from happening, it's important to keep the following in mind:
- Elders should be educated about the common scams by strangers and “professionals,” so that they take charge for their own finances wisely.
- While it is good to have someone trustworthy to help you manage your finances (like a son or daughter for example), it's always important to monitor funds and make sure there are no fraudulent activities taking place.
- By keeping a close tab on funds, you are able to identify right away when something isn't looking right, and can address the issue instantly.
In addition to stealing people's money, scammers are actively out there trying to get information to commit identity theft as well. Unfortunately, there are so many ways criminals can steal identities if they want to. Some examples include:
- Stealing Mail - Identity thieves may steal an elderly person's mail, which may include personal information like bank and credit card statements, checks, and tax information. If an elderly person isn't careful about what they throw out, these thieves are smart enough to rummage through the trash to find personal and financial information as well.
- Phishing Online - With email being so prevalently used nowadays, many scammers are sending out spam e-mails that appear to be real. These e-mails may ask seniors to “verify their information” -- if they fall for it, then these phishers just got their verified personal information. Yikes!
- Sending Mail - In addition to stealing mail, identity thieves also send it to seniors. Similar to phishing online, these documents appear to come from trusted sources like banks, charitable organizations, or other well-known companies that people normally look up to. Some seniors cannot tell the difference between what is legitimate and what isn't, and may fall into the call-to-action that these phishers are looking for. Usually, the scam mail has an “official” letterhead with authentic looking logos and trademarks.
- Cold Calling - The elderly may also receive solicited phone calls from strangers asking for them to donate money to charities. These strangers may also act like a representative at the senior's bank, requesting the information that they want in hopes that the vulnerable won't know any better and will reveal the information requested out of fear.
- Recording Credit Card Information - Whenever anyone swipes a credit card for a purchase, whether it be at a grocery store, mall, or restaurant, they technically have access to financial records. Thieves are able to steal the numbers and essentially use the victim's card to rack up insane bills before the senior is even aware that their identity has been compromised.
To prevent identity theft, it is important to practice the following:
- Before you toss out any mail, make sure that you shred the documents with any personal information. This can be financial/bank statements, credit card statements, and other documents with information that gives away your identity.
- Keep a close eye on your credit card statement and track your spending. This way you are able to know when something doesn't look right or if someone has been using your credit card to make fraudulent purchases.
- Cut up any cards you don't use before throwing them away.
- Get a PO box. If you need to send anything out, it may be safest to use this as the sender address.
- Have checks delivered to your bank or PO box rather than your home address.
- Anyone with a senior's driver's license will have full access to his or her address and can then retrieve bank account numbers and other personal data, so be careful who you let make a copy of it.
- Never reveal personal information over the phone or by mail, or even the Internet unless you know the receiver.
Many thieves target homes that are specifically occupied by the elderly because they know that they are generally more vulnerable. With that said, not only is it important to make sure that the home is secure, but also carefully select a caregiver if you plan on having one at home. Many home thefts are actually committed by supposed caretakers who eventually become very familiar with the home that the senior they're “caring for” is living in. That comes with a risk of stolen valuables, money, and even identity.
Considerations for Protecting a Home
Obviously, thieves are always looking out for themselves, so it's important to do the same and protect yourself and your residence. Being alert of your surroundings at all times and staying aware will help you fend off the criminals. If you're looking for extra ways to err on the safe side, consider the following:
- Get a dog. Not only is it nice to have a loyal companion at home, dogs are also great defenders. Many will bark when they sense any unfamiliar people coming close to your home, scaring off potential criminals and thieves.
- Install a home security and alarm system. If getting a dog is not plausible for you, then this may be a great alternative. Most of today’s home security systems now come with a variety of video options – from video doorbells to outdoor cameras providing more visibility and a lot more perspective of what's going on in different areas of your home when you are and aren't there. This way, you'll be able to keep a close eye on any unwanted or suspicious behavior from your phone. If you want, you can even set it up so that a trusted family member can help you monitor as well.
- Make sure your doorstep area is well-lit at night. Having lights installed outside is totally worth the effort and money as thieves usually frequent dark areas where they think they won't get caught committing their crime. As soon as a light goes on and shines it at their spotlight, they may be too scared to move forward with what they had in mind and move over to the next house.
- Keep your doors and windows locked, especially at night. This will hinder the bad guys from having easy access into your home.
- Become friends with the neighbors. Neighborhood watch can be such an effective way of keeping burglars away from the area. If criminals feel like they might be getting watched, they will go elsewhere. It is also a great benefit to have neighbors that are willing to help each other out. Going on vacation? You may ask a trusted neighbor to keep an eye on your mailbox or collect your mail for you so that criminals can't go through your personal information.
- If you plan on having any contractors over for work, be sure to complete a full background check and ask for references. This way, you have a better idea of who you are letting into your home. After the workers leave for the day, make sure to go through your valuables and keep track to make sure everything stays where they should. You'll want to do the same for a caregiver too if you plan on hiring one.
- Be mindful of what goes into the dumpster. Criminals are notorious for rummaging through the trash to hopefully find not only personal information, but also packaging that may signal something valuable in your home. For example, if you recently bought a new TV and threw out the packaging, the thief may be tempted to break into your home and find it. To avoid this catastrophe, it's smart to cut up the packaging and shred any documents with personal information.
- Don't accept help from strangers. Many con artists will go door to door with a friendly face offering to help with an assortment of things like mowing your lawn, painting your walls, trimming your trees… you name it! They will often come with another person. They do this to lure you outside to talk to one, while the other enters your home without your knowledge to go through your belongings while you are distracted. The best way to avoid this is to not answer the door if it doesn't look like a familiar person through the peephole.
- Use a safe that's bolted down somewhere inconspicuous in your home, so that it cannot be easily removed. Place your valuables in here, rather than leaving them lying around the house freely for people to take. The less valuables are in sight, the less opportunity people have to steal your items.
- Keep valuables away from plain sight from the street. If people can easily peek into your window and see a large television or something expensive, they may be tempted to break in when they think you're away. If you can easily see any expensive items from the window outside, it may be a good idea to keep the curtains drawn especially when you are out of town.
- Make sure your home doesn't look neglected. When a lawn doesn't look manicured, a thief may assume that you haven't been in the residence for a while, making it safe for him/her to enter. By keeping a well-manicured home, you give one less reason for a criminal to target you.
- Ensure that your street number is visible from the street. This way, in case of an emergency, the police can easily find you quickly.
- Check to make sure your alarms and lights are tamper-proof. This way, burglars can't turn them off when they are trying to get in or have gotten in.
- Set a timer for lights to go on and off so that it looks like your home is always occupied. This will intimidate some burglars from breaking and entering.
- Make sure that your garage door is closed all the way before going out. If your garage door by chance malfunctions half way and you're already gone, there's a chance a burglar may enter your home while you aren't present.
Whether you're an elderly person looking for ways to prevent elder abuse, assault, and theft, or a family member or friend wanting to learn about how you can protect the elders in your life, this guide is designed to help educate individuals to take extra precautions to protect themselves and their homes. Some of these precautions will require extra effort and may even cost you a bit initially, but is totally worth it to avoid unnecessary stress later on.
You can never be too prepared or protective over your own well-being and home. With that said, we've compiled a handy list of reliable resources for your disposal below.