June 5th, 2019 | BY: Allegra Chaney

Preventing Elder Abuse by Family Caregivers

Dear Allegra:

I have a delicate issue that I need advice on handling. Our next door neighbor is an older lady that my family and I have been close to for many years. She experienced a stroke last fall that left her paralyzed on one side.

Her son moved in with her after she was discharged from a rehab center. He has been her full-time caregiver since then. I’m sure it isn’t easy as she requires a considerable amount of assistance.

Initially, it seemed like things were going well. Lately when we visit, however, I sense that she is afraid of him. I’ve also noticed her personal care isn’t being tended to either (e.g., her hair often needs washing and her clothes look dirty).

While she isn’t wealthy, I do think she is very comfortable financially. Her son appears to be spending a lot of money on things like a new car and a motorcycle. I know from past conversations with my neighbor that the son had difficulty keeping a job and often turned to her for money.

I’m concerned she might be the victim of elder abuse, but I don’t want to overreact. It seems likely that caregiver stress and elder abuse might be high when a family member requires so much help.

Any suggestions on how I should move forward?

Sincerely,
Caitlyn

Identifying and Preventing Elder Abuse by Family Caregivers

Dear Caitlyn:

It sounds like you are in a touchy spot. Most people are reluctant to get in the middle of family situations, but elder abuse is an issue that can’t be ignored. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that 1 in 10 people over the age of 60 have been a victim of abuse. They also believe the number might be much higher since many cases of elder abuse go unreported.

Elder abuse isn’t always physical. Sometimes it is neglect, such as the situation you described. It can also be verbal, financial, sexual, and emotional. Many times, the situation isn’t reported because the abuser is a family member or close friend. The older adult might be afraid to speak out or unable to find a way to do so.

Warning Signs of Elder Abuse

As you mentioned, caregiver stress and elder abuse are often linked. Caregiving is a difficult role for family members to assume. They are sometimes ill-equipped to handle all that this role entails, and aren’t aware of the senior care options available to help.

An obvious warning sign that a senior is being physically harmed is bruises on their arms, face, and neck. Unfortunately, other red flags of elder abuse aren’t as obvious:

  • Appearing to be anxious or fearful around the family caregiver.
  • Frequent injuries, such as broken bones, where the story of what happened doesn’t quite add up.
  • Strange wounds on the skin, like those that would indicate burns, friction marks, or welts.
  • Change in the care recipient’s personal appearance, such as unintentional weight loss, dirty clothing, body odor, or unkempt hair.
  • Calls from debt collectors or past-due notices about unpaid bills despite the senior having resources to pay them.

When you next visit your neighbor, try to assess if you think she is in immediate jeopardy. It might help if you take another member of your family along to help you evaluate the situation. If you believe she is in danger, call 911 without delay. It will be the quickest way for law enforcement to intervene and get her the help she needs.

If you don’t think the danger of injury is immediate, there are other steps you can take. The best one is to call the local office of your state’s Adult Protective Services (APS) agency. Share your suspicions with them. By law, they are required to follow up in a timely manner with a personal visit. In many states, you can file a good-faith elder abuse report confidentially without fear of retaliation.

I hope this helps, Caitlyn!

Best Regards,
Allegra