According to the Nursing Home Abuse Center, one-fifth of the U.S. population will be 65 years or older by the year 2050. Many people will need the services of a nursing home, and their families will want to ensure that they are receiving optimal care. Furthermore, the
National Center on Elder Abuse estimated that as many as two million American adults are victims of abuse, indicating a real crisis. With that in mind, here are seven signs that can reveal that an elderly person is being abused.
1. Person Is Unusually Withdrawn
When an elderly person becomes withdrawn and is no longer actively communicating with loved ones, this could be a sign of abuse. Abuse can make people feel unworthy and this can manifest itself in significant withdrawal from communication and social activities, including refusing to see loved ones when they come to visit. This is also a clue to find out who, if anyone, the person is communicating with. It is not uncommon for unscrupulous persons to try to exploit older people by becoming their “new best friend” to the exclusion of family. It might not be the caregiver, bu
t instead a fellow resident or a relative of another resident. This can lead to undue influence over a person’s possessions and finances. We have seen cases where one resident obtains power of attorney over multiple others and diverts their resources.
2. Person Shows Fear When Caregiver Is Present
Often, the person who is abused will show physical signs of fear or anxiety when they are in the presence of a caregiver who is committing the abuse. This type of fear is not subtle, and per the American Society On Aging, “they may avoid eye contact, their eyes may dart, or they may even startle easily or cringe.”
3. Person Has Evidence of Physical Abuse
In some instances, the person who is being abused will have signs such as bruises, cuts, scrapes or welts. It’s important to remember, however, that these physical signs may be hidden, as the person committing the abuse may be smart enough to inflict damage in places that are not obvious to detect. This is where a little invasion of privacy may be necessary to care for your loved one. Ask permission to look at feet and fingernails and see if proper care is evident. If possible, check heels and backs and backsides for signs of open wounds or bedsores.
4. Person Communicates Feelings of Helplessness
Elder abuse is also manifested by feelings of helplessness. The person may communicate that he/she feels anxious and powerlessness, but they will not specifically talk about the source of these feelings. This is typically because elderly people who are abused – especially in nursing homes – find it difficult to reveal that a caregiver is abusing them, because they fear acts of reprisal.
5. Person No Longer Practices Good Personal Hygiene
Elder abuse can also cause victims to neglect their personal hygiene habits because they are depressed and lack self-esteem. This makes them more unlikely to keep up with basic hygiene such as showering, combing their hair and changing their clothes. If you notice that someone you love looks disheveled after years of taking care of themselves, this could be a clear warning sign of abuse. Residents of facilities should receive the care they are paying for, which always includes basic dignity assistance.
6. Person Wants To Leave Living Situation
If an elderly person wants to abruptly leave after months or years of living in a nursing home or some other care facility, this could be a sign of abuse. Older people who suffer abuse may not communicate why they want to leave the place where they are living, but the fact that they don’t give a reason, and the fact that they are expressing a strong desire to go, is something you should look into because the reason could very well be due to abuse. Ask questions—show you care.
7. Sudden/Unexplained Weight Loss
Elderly people living in a nursing home or with a private caregiver who begin to lose weight rapidly with no medical cause could be showing symptoms of elder abuse. Weight loss could result from an elderly person refusing to eat, or it could be that a caregiver is intentionally withholding food. We have seen cases where family members bring food and food supplements that residents will actually eat, only to find out later that none of the food was ever fed.
8. Seek Justice For Elder Abuse
If you suspect that someone you love is suffering elder abuse, please contact the team at Miller Weber Kory LLP at 602-648-4045 for a free legal consultation.
Gabe Kory and Jeff Miller are Assistant Professors of Practice at the University of Arizona Medical School—Phoenix, where they instruct on elder abuse to future physicians.