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Elder abuse: What to look for and how to help


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Charles Zola - published on 09/08/21

It's a growing problem in society, but greater awareness can help ensure that seniors are treated with dignity and respect.

When he established the World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly, Pope Francis encouraged a greater appreciation for the virtues and contributions that older people make to families and society. Often, these gifts are unrecognized and not greatly appreciated. Due to physical and mental decline, the elderly are often marginalized and discounted in a “throw away culture.” This cultural ethos can lead to the problem of elder abuse. 

Elder abuse is growing phenomenon in American society.

Statistics show that an average of one in 10 persons aged 60 or older has been the victim of abuse, and it takes many forms. Some of the more common types of abuse are physical, emotional, and sexual, as well as caregiver neglect. The elderly are also prime targets for financial exploitation, especially by their loved ones who may be experiencing financial difficulties. Surprisingly, abuse even occurs in licensed health care facilities at the hands of professional caregivers.

Some of the more common signs of elder abuse are unexplained bruised skin, sores, and difficulty with motion. Weight loss or disorientation can be a sign of malnutrition or dehydration. A reduction in bank account balances or missing items from the elder person’s home may indicate financial exploitation. 

Sometimes such occurrences can be accounted for and there is no actual abuse.

It’s always best to verify and check on the situation. If abuse is suspected, you should phone the local area agency on aging, or a similar office to notify authorities. As in all cases of abuse, it is prudent to err on the side of caution.

In addition, frequent visits at different times of the day and different days of the week are a good way to learn more about the everyday situation of the elderly person. This is especially true if they are in a care facility. It is good to schedule a visit during mealtime and note how well and how much the elder person eats. Smell is also a key indicator of good personal hygiene and clean clothing. It’s also important to note if finger and toenails are trimmed, and hair is combed.

Emotional and social withdrawal are two coping responses that an abused individual may develop, so it is important to observe how engaged the elderly person is.

Since the start of his papacy, Pope Francis has pleaded for vigilance in protecting the rights and dignity of the elderly. One simple way that we can do this by offering the elderly the gift of our presence and being circumspect about their condition. These encounters strengthen intergenerational bonds and give us the opportunity respond to any concerns that threaten to diminish the quality of their life.  

ElderlyPope Francis
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