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Elder Abuse

When Molly had to return to full-time work, she was confident about her mother’s care. Though her mother’s Alzheimer’s had led to incidents of wandering off and public misunderstandings, Molly knew her mother was now in good hands. The cousin who began caring for Molly’s mother had worked at nursing homes before and assisted elderly who could no longer care for themselves.

“At the time, she seemed like a Godsend,” Molly said. “Who better to care for mom than someone experienced with her illness and with her as a person?”

Shortly into her cousin’s tenure, Molly noticed bruises on her mother. Her cousin explained them easily – she fell or bumped into things all the time. The cousin even insisted Molly realize how dire her mother’s condition was.

Fearing the worst, Molly installed cameras in her home to make sure she could watch her mother to see where the injuries occurred most often. She wasn’t prepared for what she saw. Instead of lovingly helping her mother, the cousin could be seen yelling at and grabbing Molly’s mother, shoving her around like she was an inanimate object.

“I saw her treat my mother like trash. She had no regard for her as a person who should be loved and honored,” Molly said. “I don’t know how someone could be so cruel to someone so helpless, but I vowed it wouldn’t ever happen again with my mom.”

The U.S. Department of Justice defines elder abuse as any physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, neglect, abandonment, or financial exploitation of an older person either within a relationship where there is an expectation of trust and/or when an older person is targeted based on age or disability.

Physically abused older Americans can be one of the least discussed forms of domestic violence. According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, one in every 10 older Americans is abused or neglected. The 1998 study The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study reported that approximately 450,000 elderly persons in domestic settings were abused and/or neglected during 1996, and that number would only increase as a larger percentage of Americans became elderly.

To make matter worse, in almost 90 percent of the elder abuse and neglect incidents with a known perpetrator, the perpetrator is a family member, and two-thirds of the perpetrators are adult children or spouses.

In Molly’s case, she caught her cousin and stopped the abuse, but that’s a difficult undertaking if the abuser is the primary caregiver or family member.

“You have to pay attention,” Molly said. “You have to understand that anyone can be an abuser, and you have to protect your loved ones, sometimes from other loved ones.”

FindLaw recommends that you immediately report suspicions of abuse to a local adult protective services agency or local law enforcement and offers the following signs to look for if you suspect someone is being physically abused:

  • Bruising (multicolored bruising can indicate bruising over time), lacerations, punctures or welts

  • Sprains, dislocations, fractures or broken bones

  • Burn marks

  • Recurring or unexplained injuries

  • Poorly treated or untreated injuries

  • Injuries in areas usually covered by clothing

  • Poor skin condition/hygiene

  • Hair loss

  • Dehydration or malnutrition

  • Weight loss

  • Soiled clothing or bedding

  • An unclean environment (smells of feces or urine)

  • Depression or withdrawal

  • Hesitation to talk openly

  • Fearfulness of caregivers

  • Confusing or contradictory statements or accounts of injuries

  • Unexplained agitation

  • Denial of injuries

Elder adults deserve to age with dignity and respect, free from fear and shame.

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