Physical Abuse Of The Elderly

Physical abuse of the elderly: signs, descriptions, and what you can do about it.

Webster's dictionary gives the following definition for the term "abuse."

Abuse v. To use in an improper or wrong way; to mistreat, especially physically.

Abuse n. Improper treatment; injury or damage resulting from mistreatment.

Physical Abuse: Physical abuse is when a person touches an elderly person in a hurtful way such as hitting, pinching, kicking, punching, hair pulling, biting, burning with cigarettes, withholding food and over or under medicating.

Many of these types of physical abuse will go unnoticed by others because it is often assumed the older person has bumped his or herself and "bruises easily." Family, friends and health care professionals need to be on the lookout for possible signs of abuse regardless of who their caregiver is or where the elder stays.

A few signs that occur if physical abuse is going on are

1. Malnutrition or dehydration. Withholding food or water as a punishment or act of cruelty is not that uncommon. Sudden weight loss, cracked lips, dry mucus membranes, the inability to produce tears can all be indicators for these conditions.

2. Open wounds or sores on the body can indicate lack of proper care in cases of bedridden elderly. They can also indicate the results of abusive behavior by a caregiver that has used cigarettes to burn the elder, stabs using pencils or some other small, sharp object, or the intentional cutting with sharp objects.

3. Welt marks that could be the result of brushes, belts, extension cords or other such objects being used to beat the elder person.

4. Bruises, welts or actual rope burns near the wrists or ankles that would indicate the use of restraints.

5. Hair loss in sudden patch like areas. This could be a sign of someone grabbing, pulling or actually yanking the hair out.

6. Fractures of bones that can't be explained in which caregivers and even the elderly my avoid discussions of.

7. Inescapable signs such as bite or burn marks, finger prints, scratches, black eyes or broken noses and/or fingernails.

8. Caregivers that take the elder frequently into the emergency room. Many times the need will be justified but the caregiver can use his or her "concern" as a cover up for abuse.

9. Indications that the elderly person is being over medicated. Many medications make a patient drowsy or actually fall asleep. People in this condition make easy patients with no complaints or needs.

10. Under medicating a person is also a type of physical abuse. It deprives them of necessary medical care while giving the life of the elderly into the caregiver's hands. Withholding the medications can be used as a death threat, a form of punishment or even a type of blackmail. "Write me a check for the money or I won't give you your heart pills. You can just die," would be such a threat.

11. Sprains, dislocations and untreated injuries in various stages of healing are also possible signs of abuse.

The popular concept of an abuser to the elderly often includes the underpaid, overworked nursing home employee. It is hard to imagine a son, daughter or grandchild abusing an elder when in fact, they make up thirty-six percent of the reported incidents of elderly abuse.

Statistics from the National Center On Elder Abuse (NCEA) show only ten-percent of the elderly people who need assistance or care live in a long-term care facility such as a nursing home. The remaining ninety percent either lives alone or with loved ones.

Abusers of elderly people can be anyone that the person depends on or comes into contact with. This can include family, neighbors, professional caregivers, friends, landlords and even strangers.

Of the victims, 67.3% were female and 32.4% were male. In domestic physical abuse (the victim lives at home or with family members), 66.4% were White, 18.7% Black and 10% Hispanic. Reports of Native American and Asian abuse were each less than 1%.

When national statistics first began being kept on the subject, the majority of perpetrators were male. Over the years as the growing number of cases have been reported, there has become no noticeable difference in number between male or female abusers.

In America alone, it is estimated that over one million elderly persons are abused annually. Unfortunately, the actual instances of abuse may be much higher since only one out of fourteen cases of elderly abuse cases are ever reported to the authorities.

There are an infinite number of reasons an elderly person may not report or say anything to other family members about their abuse. A few of the more common reasons are as follows:

1. They may be embarrassed or ashamed of the abuse.

2. They deny what is happening to them.

3. They worry about how their report may affect the lives of loved ones.

4. They feel guilty and have come to believe they are the cause of the abuse.

5. The abuser has made them believe they deserve the punishment.

6. They were abused earlier in life and the present situation is just a continuation of a long history of abuse.

7. They hate to appear weak or vulnerable.

8. The abuser has apologized, assured them it won't ever happen again and the victim desperately wants to believe them.

9. They are afraid no one will believe them.

10. They are afraid of the unknown future if they are removed from the care of the abuser. The known isn't nearly as scary to them as the unknown.

11. Their worst nightmare is to end in a nursing home and they believe that would be the only course open to them.

12. They minimize the abuse after the fact and convince themselves that "it wasn't really that bad."

Regardless of the reasons an elderly person chooses not to tell of abuse, it must never be assumed that they are to blame for the abuse, deserve, enjoy or at fault for not telling. Perhaps they have told and no one has believed them. As in child or spousal abuse, the abusers are all too often experts at putting on a front for the world that neighbors, friends and church members refuse to believe they could possibly act in such a way.

It is impossible to tell whether abuse is happing more frequently due to the increase of elders needing care, greater stress on caregivers due to financial, emotional or physical problems or simply because the public has been made more aware of the problem, elderly abuse is growing to enormous proportions in this country. If you know or are family to an elderly person who is dependent upon others for their care, take the time to visit with them. If possible and the elder person is living with family, give the caregiver time to take a break and get away for a little while. For those in nursing homes check in with them at different times of the day. Ask questions, make observations and write them down. If at anytime you suspect abuse is occurring, report it immediately to the proper authorities. In most counties, there will be a division of Adult Protective Services that will investigate the allegations and take action if necessary. To know of abuse and not take action against it is the same as condoning the act.

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