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Posted: April 07, 2008

Practical Caregiving

Recognizing Elder Abuse

Do you think your parent or other elderly loved one is being abused in some way? Or, is it possible you are seeing something that isn’t there? Before you accuse someone of abusing your loved one, you must have facts to support the accusation.

First, take a good look at the situation. Have you always gotten along well with your loved one? Or have there been problems for several years in your relationship with them? Do they associate with the rest of the family, but not you? Do you get along well with the rest of the family? Did your loved one ever tell you they wanted you to help take care of them in some way? Or, is it your idea when they really wanted someone else to take care of them? Do they have a living will? Have they signed other papers about their care?

If your loved one doesn’t want you involved in their care or their finances, there’s nothing you can do about it. But what you can do is visit them, call them on the phone, run to the grocery store for them, or do something else to help them. In other words, you can do nice things for them without trying to get involved in their care or finances when they don’t want you there.

The important thing for you and your loved one is to maintain a good relationship. That’s what life’s all about. It isn’t about money, and it isn’t about taking care of someone; it’s about having a good relationship with those that we love.

So, why am I asking you to consider these things before you question abuse?

I was at a meeting recently that was not connected to caregiving. Of course, I mentioned my column. The lady sitting across from me said she thought her mother was being abused. The more she talked, the more I realized I couldn’t help her. She had already contacted a lawyer and the police, but they said they couldn’t help her because there was no proof of abuse. Her main concern seemed to be that she was not involved with the care of her mother. However, her mother was married, and she was of sound mind. The police said she was physically able to leave if she wanted to. All I could do was tell her to call the abuse hotline and ask them what they thought of the situation.

You really must make sure that the problem isn’t about your feelings rather than actual abuse. Make sure you are reasonable in your evaluation. After you consider the situation, if you still think there might be a possibility of abuse or neglect or exploitation, look for actual evidence of abuse. Make no mistake: you need proof. For example, one bruise would not indicate abuse, but several bruises and a broken bone would definitely be of concern.

The term elder abuse means that someone, usually the caregiver, knowingly does something that causes and elderly person harm. There are several types of abuse. Physical abuse is inflicting physical pain, injury or depriving your loved one of a basic need. Emotional abuse is inflicting mental pain or distress, whether it is verbal or nonverbal. Sexual abuse is when your loved one does not consent to a sexual act. Neglect is when the caregiver doesn’t provide everything that is needed for your loved one. Then, of course, there is exploitation when the caregiver misuses or takes your loved ones money, property or other assets.

Remember, the elderly quite often will suffer in silence and not say anything. If you notice any change in their personality or behavior, be sure to question what is happening in their life. Here are some guidelines to use when evaluating the situation.

Are there bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, or burns?

Has your loved one withdrawn from family members or normal activities? Is there a sudden change in alertness? What about depression or listlessness?

Are there bruises around the breasts or genital area?

Are there any sudden changes in their financial situation?

Are there any bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, or unusual weight loss?

Does their caregiver belittle, make threats, or use other ways to create power and control your loved one?

Is the relationship between the caregiver and your loved one strained or tense? Are there frequent arguments between them?

There is another area you should keep in mind. That’s when the elderly neglect their own care. Quite often, this happens when their health is declining, they are developing some sort of dementia, or there is a drug or alcohol dependency. Signs of this may be hoarding, poor hygiene, confusion, pour housekeeping, dehydration or leaving a stove on when they should have turned it off.

If your loved one is truly in immediate danger, call 911 or the local police for immediate help. If you suspect any of the problems I have mentioned but it is not an emergency, call 1-800-677-1116.



© 2008 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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