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Recognizing silent suffering: Warning signs of elder abuse

On Behalf of | Apr 25, 2024 | Elder Law

Elder abuse, a hidden epidemic, affects millions of seniors across the nation. Often shrouded in fear and shame, it can be challenging to detect. But you can be the voice for a vulnerable elder by recognizing the warning signs and knowing where to get help.

Here’s what you should know about spotting elder abuse and what you should do next when you suspect abuse.

The many faces of elder abuse

Elder abuse isn’t just physical violence. It encompasses a broad spectrum of mistreatment, including:

  • Physical abuse: Bruises, cuts, broken bones and unexplained injuries can be signs of physical harm.
  • Emotional/psychological abuse: Yelling, threats, humiliation and social isolation can cause depression, anxiety and withdrawal.
  • Financial exploitation: Missing money, unexplained withdrawals and pressured changes to wills or financial documents are red flags.
  • Neglect: Unsanitary living conditions, malnutrition, dehydration and untreated medical needs can indicate neglect.
  • Sexual abuse: This is a particularly underreported crime. Signs may include physical injuries, changes in behavior or withdrawal.

While some of these types of abuse are more life-threatening than others, no one should have to suffer in situations where they are dealing with abuse. When you notice abuse, it is essential to take action.

Spotting the warning signs: When to be concerned

While some signs may be subtle, here are some key indicators that an elder might be experiencing abuse:

  • Changes in appearance: Poor hygiene, weight loss or new injuries can be a cause for concern.
  • Withdrawal from activities and socialization: An elder who used to be active but suddenly becomes withdrawn may be experiencing emotional abuse or neglect.
  • Fear or anxiety: If an elder seems afraid of their caregiver or hesitant to speak freely, it could be a sign of abuse.
  • Financial issues: Unexplained financial difficulties, missing valuables or pressured changes to financial documents warrant investigation.
  • Damaged belongings: Broken glasses, damaged furniture or missing items could indicate physical abuse or neglect.

Depending on who is committing the abuse, the staff or your loved one may go to great lengths to hide any evidence. It is crucial to maintain a trusting relationship so that your loved one is comfortable talking to you about challenging or delicate situations.

Breaking the silence: How a skilled attorney can help

If you suspect elder abuse, don’t hesitate to take action. An experienced elder law attorney can be a powerful advocate for your loved one. Here’s how they can help:

  • Investigate the abuse: Your lawyer can gather evidence, interview witnesses and work with law enforcement to investigate the situation.
  • Protect your loved one: They can obtain legal protection orders to restrict the abuser’s access to the elder or their finances.
  • Recover financial losses: In cases of financial exploitation, your attorney can work to recover lost funds and assets stolen from the elder.
  • Navigate the legal system: Elder law attorneys understand complex legal issues related to guardianship, conservatorship and financial exploitation. They can guide you through the legal process efficiently and effectively.
  • Ensure your loved one’s voice is heard: In situations where an elder is incapacitated, your lawyer can represent their best interests in court and ensure their wishes are respected.

While organizations like the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) can offer initial support, an attorney provides a comprehensive legal strategy to address the specific needs of the case. Their experience can make a significant difference in securing a safe environment and just outcome for your loved one.