Know the signs, how to report elder abuse

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Wear purple, know the signs, report abuse

Elder abuse prevention fact sheet

Why should you care about elder abuse?  Because anyone can be a victim of elder abuse – your mother, your grandfather, your neighbor, maybe even you. On World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15 – and every day – it’s important to know the signs of abuse and how to report suspected cases of abuse. 

Today, for the first time in history, people age 65 and older outnumber children under age 5. Each day, more than 10,000 Americans turn 65. This trend will continue for the next 20 years. At the same time that the population is growing, we know that a startling number of older adults face abusive conditions. Every year an estimated 5 million, or 1 in 10, older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation. And that’s only part of the picture: Experts believe that for every case of elder abuse or neglect reported, as many as 23 cases go unreported.

Wear purple to raise awareness
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (#WEAAD2016), June 15, serves as a call-to-action for individuals, organizations, and communities to raise awareness about abuse, neglect, and exploitation of older adults. On June 15, we encourage everyone to join Council on Aging staff in wearing purple to raise awareness of the impact and problem of elder abuse. Visit our Facebook page on June 15 for pictures of our staff wearing purple in support of this important cause.

Types of abuse

  • Physical abuse: Use of force to threaten or physically injure an elder 
  • Emotional abuse: Verbal attacks, threats, rejection, isolation, or belittling acts that cause or could cause mental anguish, pain, or distress to a senior
  • Sexual abuse: Sexual contact that is forced, tricked, threatened, or otherwise coerced upon an elder, including anyone who is unable to grant consent 
  • Exploitation: Theft, fraud, misuse or neglect of authority, and use of undue influence as a lever to gain control over an older person’s money or property 
  • Neglect: A caregiver’s failure or refusal to provide for a vulnerable elder’s safety, physical, or emotional needs 
  • Abandonment: Desertion of a frail or vulnerable elder by anyone with a duty of care
  • Self-neglect: An inability to understand the consequences of one’s own actions or inaction, which leads to, or may lead to, harm or endangerment 

Remember: You do not need to prove that abuse is occurring; it is up to the professionals to investigate the suspicions.

Warning signs

  • Physical Abuse: Slap marks, unexplained bruises, most pressure marks, and certain types of burns or blisters, such as cigarette burns 
  • Neglect: Bedsores/pressure ulcers, filth, lack of medical care, malnutrition or dehydration, poor hygiene, unusual weight loss.  (see Self Neglect below)
  • Emotional Abuse: Withdrawal from normal activities, unexplained changes in alertness, depression, or other unusual behavioral changes. Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses or careagivers are also indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Sexual Abuse: Bruises around the breasts or genital area and unexplained sexually transmitted diseases 
  • Financial Abuse/Exploitation: Sudden change in finances and accounts, altered wills and trusts, unusual bank withdrawals, checks written as “loans” or “gifts” and loss of property 

It’s important to remain alert. The suffering is often in silence. If you notice changes in personality, behavior, or physical condition, you should start to question what is going on.

Tragically, older adults sometimes neglect their own care, which can lead to illness or injury. Self-neglect is one of the most frequently reported concerns brought to adult protective services. Oftentimes, the problem is paired with declining health, isolation, Alzheimer's disease or dementia, or drug and alcohol dependency. 
Self-neglect can include behaviors such as:

  • Hoarding of objects, newspapers/magazines, mail/paperwork, etc., and/or animal hoarding to the extent that the safety of the individual (and/or other household or community members) is threatened or compromised
  • Failure to provide adequate food and nutrition for oneself
  • Failure to take essential medications or refusal to seek medical treatment for serious illness
  • Leaving a burning stove unattended
  • Poor hygiene
  • Not wearing suitable clothing for the weather
  • Confusion
  • Inability to attend to housekeeping
  • Dehydration

How to report abuse in Ohio
Ohio state law requires that county Adult Protective Service (APS) departments investigate alleged cases of abuse of people age 60 and older, as well as disabled and other vulnerable adults. APS offices are generally part of county Departments of Job and Family Services.

If you have reasonable cause to suspect that an older person is being abused, contact your county APS office. Learn how to report elder abuse in your county.

More than 15,000 incidents are reported statewide each year, however, many more incidents go unreported. Policy Matters of Ohio estimates the actual number of incidents is between 75,000 and 214,000 each year.

Additionally, Ohio law includes a list of professionals and caregivers who are required to file reports with APS if they have reasonable cause to believe an adult is being abused, neglected, or exploited, or is in a condition which is the result of abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Any person who makes a report, testifies, or acts responsibly in their official duties is immune from civil and criminal liability unless they acted in bad faith or with malicious purpose. (ORC 5101.61)

About World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations (UN) launched the first World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on June 15, 2006 in an effort to unite communities around the world in raising awareness about elder abuse. WEAAD is in support of the UN’s International Plan of Action acknowledging the significance of elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue.

Information on how to get involved in WEAAD, including a WEAAD toolkit, is available from the following websites. 

WEAAD Resources:

National Center for Elder Abuse WEAAD website

Why should I care about elder abuse?

ProSeniors Elder Abuse/APS Factsheet