Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you write a column on the shameful crime of elder abuse? I've worked for Adult Protective Services for many years, and it seems like this ongoing problem doesn't get enough attention.
-- Concerned Citizen
Elder abuse is an immense and often hidden problem that all Americans need to be aware of so they can recognize it, and know what to do if they suspect a problem.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, around 3.5 million seniors are victims of abuse, but research suggests that this crime is significantly under-reported and under-identified. Fewer than one-in-six cases of elder abuse ever get reported to the authorities because the victims are usually too afraid, too embarrassed, too helpless or too trusting to call for help.
The term "elder abuse" is defined as intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or trusted individual that causes, or can cause, harm to a vulnerable senior. Elder abuse also comes in many different forms: physical abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment, neglect and financial exploitation which has increased significantly over the past few years because of the sour economy.
Those most vulnerable are seniors that are ill, frail, disabled, socially isolated or mentally impaired due to dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
It's also important to know that while elder abuse does happen in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, the vast majority of incidents take place at home where the senior lives. And tragically, the abusers are most often their own family members (usually the victim's adult child or spouse) or caregiver.
Recognizing elder abuse
So how can you tell if a friend or your loved one is being abused, and what can you do to help?
A change in general behavior is a universal warning sign that a problem exists. If your elder friend or loved one becomes withdrawn or gets upset or agitated easily, you need to start asking questions. Here are some additional warning signs on the different types of elder abuse that can help you spot a possible problem.
Physical or sexual abuse: Suspicious bruises or other injuries that can't be explained. Sudden changes in behavior -- upset, withdrawn, fearful. Broken eyeglasses. Caregiver's refusal to allow visitors to see an elder alone.
Emotional or psychological abuse -- insults, intimidation, threats, social isolation: The elder is extremely upset, agitated, withdrawn, unresponsive, fearful or depressed, or demonstrates some other unusual behavior.
Neglect or self-neglect: Malnourishment, weight loss, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, unsanitary and unsafe living conditions.
Financial exploitation: Missing money or valuables. Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts, or transfers between accounts. Unauthorized use of credit, debit or ATM card. Unpaid bills despite available funds. Checks written as a loan or gift. Abrupt changes in a will or other documents.
What to Do
The best ways to help prevent elder abuse is to be in touch, and keep the lines of communication open. If you suspect any type of elder abuse or neglect, report it to your local protective services agency.
Adult Protective Services is the government agency responsible for investigating cases and providing help and guidance. Call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 or visit the National Center on Elder Abuse website ncea.aoa.gov) to get the agency contact number in your area.
If however, you feel the person is in immediate danger, call 911 for immediate help.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.