After a lifetime of hard work and providing for family, the last thing an aging person should be subject to is exploitation in a time of need. Unfortunately, elder abuse is all-too common, experienced by vulnerable elderly in nursing homes, from family members or through caretakers. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, approximately 10 percent of the elderly population experiences elder abuse at least once every year. This number excludes financial exploitation, which can be devastating to an elderly person's wellbeing as well.

Many elderly are at high risk of abuse. Unlike other vulnerable populations, such as children, there is no federal agency or infrastructure specifically on the lookout for elder abuse. Some states Without Child Protective Services or other agency, often the elderly are left to fend for themselves. States have enacted legislation protective vulnerable adults, however. In Illinois, for example, there is an Adult Protective Services unit within the Department on Aging, which investigates suspected cases of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of the elderly and adults with disabilities. Illinois also requires special training for caretakers in spotting elder abuse.

Knowing the signs of elder abuse is important, as many elderly are reluctant or unable to speak out or ask for help. Many vulnerable elder adults have considered themselves as capable, competent adults for decades. Unless spotted by a caring third party, elder abuse will often go unreported, one of the reasons it is difficult to gather exact data on elder abuse.

Types of elder abuse

Elder abuse occurs when a caregiver of any kind does the following:

  • Physically abuses or threatens to harm the elderly person
  • Verbally abuses the elderly person
  • Sexually abuses the elderly person
  • Neglects or abandons the elderly person
  • Financially exploits an elderly person, such as by taking over finances, pressuring the person to re-write a will or trust or sign over housing to that person

Physical signs of abuse are perhaps easiest to spot. Frequent bruising, perhaps brushed off by a caretaker as "falling accidents" are a sign of physical abuse. Poor hygiene and bedsores are also indicative of neglect or abandonment. Drastic emotional changes, such as severe depression or withdrawal from social activities can be signs of emotional abuse. Uncharacteristic financial spending or sudden, frequent tension about finances can also be a sign of financial abuse.

Help is available

State and local authorities can help prevent suspected elder abuse. In addition, if a loved family member has experienced abuse or negligence at the hands of nursing home staff, legal remedies can hold the nursing home accountable. People who suspect an elderly relative has suffered abuse should contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss legal options available.

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