As our society ages, more individuals are at risk of elder abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) defines elder abuse as any intentional or negligent act that harms a vulnerable adult. Forms of abuse may include physical, emotional or sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect or abandonment. And while we may hear of cases in the news where one or more individuals has been abused at a nursing home or long-term care facility, we don’t always hear about the individual cases of abuse by relatives.
Every individual has a right to live with dignity, free from the fear of violence or abuse. In many cases, those who are victims of abuse are ashamed and will not report their abusers. Other victims are no longer able to understand what is happening to them. It is up to relatives, friends and neighbors to watch for signs of abuse and report suspected cases. It is not always easy to tell that someone is being abused. Frequent bruises, for example, could be a sign of abuse or indicate a medical condition or be a side effect of medication. Here are some things the NCEA reports may be indicators of abuse:
- Changes in personality or behavior, including unexpected withdrawal from activities the person used to enjoy, or sudden depression.
- Broken bones, bruises, cuts, or burns.
- Bed sores or untreated medical needs.
- Unexplained weight loss or poor hygiene.
- Bruising around the breasts or genitals may indicate sexual abuse.
- A sudden financial decline could indicate exploitation by another.
- Verbal abuse, belittling comments or threats by a spouse or caregiver may signal emotional abuse.
If you suspect an elderly or at-risk adult is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 and report it. If the danger is not immediate, contact your local Department of Social Services office and ask them to investigate. The county listing for North Carolina DSS offices is available online.
To learn more about elder abuse or see available resources, visit the NCEA website by clicking on the link above. Ultimately, we are all responsible for ensuring the health and safety of the elderly or at-risk adults.