When thinking about elder abuse, consider this common scenario:
A married couple lives in their home, as they have for decades. The wife’s health declines so the man takes care of her on a daily basis. She depends on him for almost every aspect of daily life.
Frustration, isolation and stress builds in the man. One day he breaks under the pressure and strikes his wife. Social workers respond to the matter after being alerted by a family member. They see he is under caregiver stress and recommend important services for the man. But the man explains his intense stress and exhaustion, saying it will never happen again.
At face value, it sounds like this domestic problem is solved. But the reality is that the man’s language is classic for batterers. This is one of the most common responses social workers hear from repeat batterers. Meanwhile, the wife is left alone and victim to her stressed-out husband who will very likely strike again.
Is Elder Abuse Caregiver Stress or Controlling Behavior?
Caring for an ailing or aging loved one is intensely stressful. But elder abuse goes deeper than this. People looking at why the abuse happened are forgetting to look at what the victim needs. Instead, they concentrate on why the man hit his wife, what his reasons and excuses are, as well as whether those excuses “add up.” They should be considering how to get the wife the care she needs, protect her from the elder abuse and ensure her long-term safety.
Leaders in the field of social work emphasize that elder abuse is more about power, control and greed, than reaction to stress of caring for the loved one. In essence, saying you strike your wife because you are stressed is no excuse at all. The man feels entitled to act aggressively against the wife. This is controlling behavior, not a stress reaction.
Knowing the Signs of Elder Abuse
Elder abuse varies widely. Some elder abuse leaves obvious physical marks, like a black eye, bruises or broken bones. These marks are often blamed on the elder falling or other incidents. Then there are types of elder abuse that do not leave marks, such as financial abuse, psychological control and emotional abuse. These abuses include aggressive, demeaning and critical actions.
Being neglected includes mishandling or lack of help for hygiene, nutrition, supervision or basic needs like help with mobility to prevent bedsores or bathroom accidents. Sex abuse is more common for elders than you may think. Many of these incidents result in sexually transmitted diseases.
Financial abuse victims are often made to seem generous or like they are voluntarily providing large amounts of cash or expensive gifts to their caregivers. Elders may sign legal documents permitting others to control their finances, but cannot verbalize or indicate what those documents even mean.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, these are all signs of elder abuse. If you suspect elder abuse is occurring, it is crucial that you speak to an elder abuse lawyer immediately.
Watch for Clues of Elder Abuse
Elder abuse can be very subtle. You have to look for even the smallest of signs to indicate elder abuse. Examples of these signs include the elder:
- Withdrawing from activities
- Making veiled statements defending the abuser, such as, “He has a temper”
- Being isolated, having no freedom outside the home or not being able to maintain other relationships beyond the caregiver
- Being unable to have phone conversations with other people besides the caregiver
- Being unavailable when authorities or relatives check on their welfare
- Having no real opportunity to meet with outsiders without the caregiver being present
Elder abusers tend to be present in the same room as guests and the elder, or may show subtle signs of monitoring what the elder says. These signs include certain looks, finger tapping on a table or repeated use of the same words as a sort of code of intimidation.
How to Respond to Elder Abuse
Elder abuse victims usually avoid talking about the abuse. It is important to see through this to know they feel intimidated and fear retaliation. Compassion, kindness and remaining alert are important for determining whether elder abuse exists.
If you suspect elder abuse, contact an experienced elder abuse attorney right away. A personal injury lawyer has the resources needed to determine whether the abuse is taking place. That lawyer then helps you gain compensation for your loved one, so he or she can gain the healthy environment, care and protection they need. It is very important to act on your suspicions and is always better to be wrong, than to neglect your loved elder’s needs.