Lots of people figure they can recognize the signs that someone is abusing another.
They rely on observations and often their instincts. But the truth is we all can do better.
The June 15 observance of Elder Abuse Awareness Day does a service in focusing responsible, caring persons on the need to sharpen their skills in spotting harmful abuse. Ombudsmen for the elderly in long-term care facilities share these definitions, reminding elder abuse can take several forms:
>> Physical abuse: This can include slapping, bruising or restraining by physical or other means, such as keeping someone in a constant drug-induced state.
>> Sexual abuse: This is all forms of nonconsensual sexual contact, at any time.
>> Neglect: This refers to the failure of those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care or protection for a vulnerable elder. This includes looking the other way when others are perpetrating harmful neglect.
>> Exploitation: This involves the illegal taking, misuse or concealment of funds, property or assets of an elderly person for someone else’s benefit. A classic example is when someone takes items of value from an elderly person’s home without the person’s informed consent.
>> Emotional abuse: This is defined as inflicting mental pain, anguish or distress by actions that can include humiliating, intimidating or threatening an elderly person.
>> Abandonment: This is what it sounds like — the desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
>> Bullying: This includes any intimidation or harassment that causes an elderly person to fear for his or her physical safety or property.
Elder abuse is far too common. Most informed estimates suggest 1 in 10 elderly adults will experience some form of abuse, and most cases go unreported.
You can help in a number of ways: Ensuring an elderly person has access to needed services and does not need to rely on those who might take advantage; staying alert to the possibility of abuse; and reporting suspected abuse to your state adult abuse hotline. (In Hawaii, call 808-832-5115.)
Finally, perhaps the most helpful thing a person can do is to keep in contact and stay involved in the lives of elderly people they know and care about.
As advocates note, maintain- ing communication reduces isolation, a risk factor for mistreatment. It also gives the elderly person a chance to talk about any problems they may be experiencing.