Updated: Jun 5, 2020
Elder abuse is a common problem for our aging members of society, but one that often goes unnoticed or unreported. The Administration for Community Living defines elder abuse as any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. Abuse takes many forms, but it usually falls into one of three categories: emotional, physical, and financial. Often, if a person is being abused, the type of abuse inflicted will fall under more than one category.
Emotional abuse comes in the form of verbal attacks, threats, rejection, isolation, or belittling acts that cause or could cause mental anguish, pain, or distress to an older person. Emotional abuse is one of the hardest forms of abuse to detect because the damage is not on the surface. Some things to look for in determining emotional abuse are unusual changes in behavior or sleep, fear or anxiety, being isolated or not responsive, and depression.
Physical abuse is the use of force to threaten or physically injure an older person, and it also includes sexual abuse: sexual contact that is forced, tricked, threatened, or otherwise coerced upon an older person, including anyone who is unable to grant consent. Signs of physical abuse include broken bones, bruises, and welts, cuts, sores or burns, untreated bed sores, torn, stained or bloody underclothing, unexplained sexually transmitted diseases, dirtiness, poor nutrition or dehydration, poor living conditions, and lack of medical aids (glasses, walker, teeth, hearing aid, medications).
Financial abuse, or exploitation, includes theft, fraud, misuse or neglect of authority, and use of undue influence as a lever to gain control over an older person’s money or property. Things to be on the lookout for are unusual changes in bank account or money management, unusual or sudden changes in a will or other financial documents, fraudulent signatures on financial documents, and unpaid bills.
All forms of abuse are considered neglect: the failure or refusal to provide for an older person’s safety, physical, or emotional needs. Our aging population does not have to suffer these forms of neglect if more people become aware of the forms of elder abuse and work to prevent it. There are several things that can be done. The National Council on Elder Abuse asserts that we can lessen the risk of elder abuse by putting supports and foundations in place that make abuse difficult. If we think of society as a building that supports our well-being, then it makes sense to design the sturdiest building we can—one with the beams and load-bearing walls necessary to keep everyone safe and healthy as we age. For example, constructing community supports and human services for caregivers and older adults can alleviate risk factors tied to elder abuse.
Locally, The Council on Aging has partnered with RSVP and the Etowah County Probate Office to offer the Etowah County Guardian Monitoring Assistance Program (EGMAP). Through this program, court-appointed guardians receive free training and ongoing support for providing quality care to the person in their charge. Funding for Etowah Guardianship Monitoring Assistance Program is made possible by a grant from the Stringfellow Health Fund of the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama.
HOW CAN WE REPORT SUSPECTED ABUSE? No matter how old we are, justice requires that we be treated as full members of our communities. If we notice some of these signs of abuse, it is our duty to report it to the proper authorities. Programs such as Adult Protective Services (APS) and the Long-Term Care Ombudsmen are here to help. For reporting numbers, contact Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 (eldercare.gov). If you or someone you know is in a life-threatening situation or immediate danger, call 911 or the local police or sheriff.
In Etowah County, you can contact Adult Protective services at the Department of Human Resources at 256-549-4100.
In Northeast Alabama, you can contact EARPDC Aging and Disability Resource Center at (256) 237-674.