Signs of Elder Abuse: What an Adult Child of an Aging Parent Needs to Know

If you have an older parent who is receiving in-home assistance from a hired caretaker, if you have a parent in some type of assisted living community, it is important that you understand signs of elder abuse. This becomes particularly important if your mother or father has a health condition – physical or cognitive – that makes them more vulnerable and might prevent them from being able to effectively convey what is happening to you.

Through this article, we discuss with you the more common signs of elder abuse. We also discuss strategies to protect your parent from elder abuse. In addition, we share steps that should be taken if your parent is subjected to elder abuse at some juncture in time.

Types of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse comes in a number of different forms. Because of the vulnerability of many older individuals, they particularly are at risk for one or another of these different types of abuse (or one or more of these offenses):

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Neglect

Some might argue that neglect is not abuse per se. However, when neglect occurs, it can be as damaging as some types of physical abuse. Therefore, we include neglect in our discussion with you as an adult child of an older parent receiving care in some setting (including in-home assistance). 

Most Common Signs of Elder Physical Abuse

The shocking, sad reality is that elder abuse can take many forms. The most commonplace signs of elder abuse perpetrated by a caretaker or in some type of long-term care facility include:

  • Bruises, abrasions, burns or other injuries that are unexplained or incompatible with provided explanations
  • Injuries that reflect the use of objects like belts, straps or hands to restrain or harm
  • Recurring infections
  • Torn or bloodied clothing
  • Untreated medical problems
  • Dehydration or malnourishment
  • Sudden fear of caregiver or other staff
  • Sudden depression or social withdrawal

Most Common Signs of Elder Emotional Abuse

Elder emotional abuse can be particularly insidious. It can go undetected for even longer that oftentimes is the case of elder physical abuse. The signs of elder emotional abuse may not manifest as quickly as signs of elder physical abuse. Therefore, an adult child of a parent receiving care and assistance from a professional or in a facility needs to be particularly observant for signs of emotional harm being afflicted on a mother or father. Signs of elder emotional abuse are:

  • Fearfulness of caregivers
  • Sudden depression or social withdrawal
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Heightened sense of agitation or disorientation
  • Episodes of emotional distress, such as crying

Most Common Signs of Elder Sexual Abuse

Undoubtedly, it is frightening to comprehend a parent being subjected to sexual abuse by a caretaker or staff member at a facility. Keep these three, sad words in mind: It does happen. The more common signs of elder sexual abuse are:

  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area
  • Unexplained venereal disease or infection of the genitalia
  • Torn, stained or bloody undergarments

Keep in mind that elder sexual abuse does not necessarily involve physical contact. It can also include:

  • Coerced nudity
  • Taking of sexually explicit photos
  • Taking of sexually explicit videos

Most Common Signs of Elder Financial Abuse

There are instances in which a homecare aide might assist in bill paying. There can be other situations in which a third-party might have some access to a parent’s finances or money. Evidence that elder financial abuse might be occurring include:

  • Confusion about finances and recent financial transactions
  • Deviations from typical banking habits
  • Requests for additional banking cards
  • Opening of a joint account, alteration of the power of attorney, or the changing of an account beneficiary
  • Sudden property transfers or changes to a will
  • Addition of new authorized signers to banking accounts or cards
  • Financial records redirected to a new address
  • Unaccounted financial withdrawals or sudden overdraft fees

Protecting Your Parent From Elder Abuse

There are a number of strategies that you should consider employing in order to best protect your parent from elder abuse if your mother or father will be receiving care at his or her home or in some type of senior living facility. The key step to take is to familiarize yourself with the signs of different types of elder abuse that have been set forth previously in this article.

Maintaining close, consistent communication with your parent is another strategy to employ as means of guarding against elder abuse. Communication is useful on a number of fronts. First, you are better aware of the existence of a sign or signs of elder abuse when you maintain regular contact with your parent. 

Second, a caretaker or staff member of a facility will be less likely to cause harm to a person who is closely monitored by a child or other family member. Staying in close contact is not foolproof, but it does lessen the risk in many instances. 

Third, do comprehensive thorough due diligence when you are considering hiring a caretaker for an aging parent. The same holds true if you and your parent are looking into a long-term care option from your mother or father. A thorough background check needs to include an examination of whether a caretaker or staff member has a criminal history. 

Steps to Take When Elder Abuse Occurs

There are a number of steps you need to take promptly in the aftermath of elder abuse:

  • Report elder abuse to administration of a long-term care facility or in-home care agency
  • Report elder abuse to law enforcement
  • Report elder abuse to state regulatory agency that oversees facility or agency in question
  • Find new caretakers for your parent – immediately

Hopefully, you will be fortunate enough to never face a situation in which your mother or father is the victim of elder abuse in any of its dreadful forms. With that said, it’s far better to be armed with the information in this article, even if you never face an instance in which elder abuse is directed at your parent.