Spotting the Signs of Physical, Sexual, and Emotional Elder Abuse
Elder abuse is devastating, both for the person who has to suffer it and for the close friends and family members who all too often don’t realize it’s happening until it has gone on for a lengthy period of time. Vulnerable family members can suffer dehumanizing neglect, physical abuse, sexual assault, financial exploitation, and severe emotional damage. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call elder abuse a “significant public health problem.” They estimate that over half a million adults are believed to be abused or neglected each year, but caution that the estimate is likely an underestimate due to victims’ inability or unwillingness to report abuse.
While any amount of abuse is horrific, there fortunately are signs that loved ones can look for to detect abuse as early as possible and prevent continued suffering. The Oregon Department of Human Services has created a list of warning signs for various types of abuse. In upcoming posts we will detail the signs of various types of abuse. We start with three particularly tragic types: physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse.
Signs of Physical Abuse
- Cuts, lacerations, punctures, wounds.
- Bruises, welts, discolorations, grip marks.
- Any unexplained injury that doesn’t fit with the given explanation of the injury.
- Any injury incompatible with the person’s history of unexplained injuries.
- Any injury which has not been properly cared for (sometimes injuries are hidden on areas of the body normally covered by clothing).
- Poor skin condition or poor skin hygiene.
- Dehydration and/or malnourishment without illness-related cause.
- Unexplained loss of weight.
- Burns, possibly caused by cigarettes, caustics, acids or friction from ropes or chains.
- Soiled clothing or bed linens.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
- Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding.
- Torn or bloody underwear.
- Bruised breasts.
- Venereal diseases or vaginal infections.
- Sudden changes in the emotional or psychological state of the person.
Signs of Verbal or Emotional Abuse
- Being emotionally upset or agitated;
- Being extremely withdrawn and non communicative or non responsive;
- Unusual behavior usually attributed to dementia e.g., sucking, biting, rocking); and
- An elder’s report of being verbally or emotionally mistreated.
Of course, all of these are just signs or indicators. The mere absence of any or all of these signs does not mean that abuse is not occurring. Abuse victims sometimes hide their abuse due to either shame or fear. So do not be afraid to ask questions or investigate if you have a feeling that something is not right. Our elderly loved ones deserve to be treated with dignity and respect no matter what their mental or physical capabilities may be.
If you believe an elderly loved one is suffering or has suffered from any type of abuse, contact an Oregon-licensed elder abuse attorney. If you believe a crime has been committed you should also call the police, and if there is a medical emergency you should dial 9-1-1.
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