The many forms of elder abuse

Elder abuse is a growing problem in California and it can take many forms from physical to emotional to financial.

As the elder population in California and throughout the United States grows, so too does the problem of elder abuse. The American Psychological Association indicates that elder abuse is a highly under-reported problem. The National Center on Elder Abuse ("NCEA") estimates that as many as two million people have suffered from elder neglect or abuse.

When many people think about the abuse of elders, they commonly think of people being physically harmed or neglected in nursing homes or other care facilities. While this is one form of elder neglect and abuse, it is far from the only one. Abusive situations can involve many factors and the signs of each may be very different.

Types of elder abuse

The NCEA identifies several different types of elder abuse. They include:

  • Physical abuse, which is marked by harm caused by force or otherwise direct intention.
  • Neglect, which is noted when an elder has not been provided proper care. This can often lead to physical harm but is not noted as physical abuse because these signs are results of the neglect.
  • Sexual abuse, which can involve rape, inappropriate touching or even exposure to sexually explicit material against the victim's wishes.
  • Abandonment, which is desertion by a person identified as responsible for an elder.
  • Psychological or emotional abuse, which involves threats, humiliation or other verbally abusive behavior.
  • Financial abuse, which utilizes an elder's money or assets inappropriately. In many cases, coercion or other tactics are used by people to gain access to accounts or other property.

In some cases, elderly people themselves interfere with their own care by refusing needed assistance or consciously disregarding medical orders. This is referred to as self-neglect.

How can elder abuse be identified?

The Administration for Community Living, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, notes that some forms of elder abuse are more easily recognized than others. Financial abuse, for example, does not generally produce visible symptoms. People must know enough about an elder's situation to notice a change in financial status or a new person suddenly in charge of all finances.

Other forms of abuse can cause mood, temperament, or attitude changes. Bruises, sores and unexplained pain can raise flags, as can other physical changes, such as sudden weight loss. Any suspected abuse should be reported to the local Adult Protective Services department.

What else can be done?

Concerned persons who suspect elder abuse in San Diego should also contact an attorney. There are many legal ramifications to these cases and the involvement of an experienced lawyer can make a difference.