Elder Abuse Awareness Day calls attention to a widespread problem

Entrusting the care of a family member to another person or team of individuals can be a difficult decision, but most people in Washington, Pennsylvania, do so because they believe it is the best choice. Sadly, though, elderly family members sometimes fall victim to nursing home neglect or abuse at the hands of the people who are supposed to care for them.

Elder abuse is not as uncommon as many people may believe. With World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in June, it is an opportune time to remind people with older loved ones of the risk and the signs of elder abuse.

A growing problem

America's elderly population is growing; in 2010, more than 40 million Americans were older than 65, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse. This can increase the risk of intentional abuse, such as people taking financial advantage of older individuals. It can also raise the likelihood of abuse in the form of negligence, such as overburdened care facilities failing to prevent wrongful personal injuries or deaths.

The NCEA reports that hard statistics on elder abuse are hard to come by, since many victims may fear retribution or lack the physical capability to report the situation. However, the organization reports the following findings:

  • About 7.6 to 10 percent of elderly individuals studied experienced a non-financial form of abuse within the past year.
  • As many as 13 out of 14 elder abuse cases may never be reported or receive official attention.
  • Reports of elder abuse to state Adult Protective Services agencies are increasing.
  • Individuals with disabilities and dementia are at a higher risk for abuse, as are older individuals.

Sadly, even abuse that is considered "mild" can cause psychological distress, harm physical health and raise the risk of wrongful death. This means it is crucial that family members and friends be alert to signs that an older loved one has been abused or neglected.

Common signs of elder abuse

Inexplicable injuries, bruises and sores can be indicators of physical abuse or neglect, according to the Administration on Aging. Even weight loss and poor hygiene can indicate mistreatment. Friends and family members should also pay attention to whether the individual's unique medical needs are being met.

There are also various emotional changes that may be warning signs of elder abuse. Withdrawal, depression and strained relationships can all stem from maltreatment. In fact, any significant changes in personality or behavior may indicate that something is wrong.

Anyone who suspects an elderly loved one is being abused should report the abuse to the Adult Protective Services agency. If abuse has occurred, victims and family members should also consider meeting with a personal injury attorney to discuss seeking compensation for the abuse and its lingering consequences.