What kinds of actions or failure to take action are considered elder abuse?

There are many different kinds of actions that would be called 'elder abuse' in a court of law. It may be difficult to know whether the actions are abuse, or whether they may be related to the condition of the elderly person.

For example, common warning signs of elder abuse are frequent arguments or strain between the elderly person and their caregiver, and changes in the elderly person’s personality or behavior. Because these very things could also be symptoms of the elderly person’s physical or mental condition, it is helpful to look for the following indications of these kinds of abuse:

Emotional Abuse
If you see a caregiver treat an elderly person in a threatening, belittling or controlling way, there may be a claim for emotional abuse. The elderly person may show new or increased signs of dementia, like rocking, sucking, or mumbling to themselves, as evidence that they suffered emotional abuse. The indications of physical abuse, described below, may also signal that there has been emotional abuse.

Financial Exploitation
Financial exploitation may be shown by any of the following: significant withdrawals from the elderly person’s bank or other accounts; sudden changes in the elder’s financial condition; the elder missing items or cash; suspicious changes in the elder’s will, trust, power of attorney, title, or insurance beneficiaries; the addition of names to the elder’s signature card; bills going unpaid even though the elder has enough money to pay them; financial activity the elder couldn’t have performed, like a purchase or ATM withdrawal when the elder is bedridden; or unnecessary services or purchases.

Health Care Fraud
Signs of health care fraud include multiple or duplicate billings for the same services, medications, treatments, or devices. Over- or under-medication of the elder is another indication of an attempt to defraud Medicare or health insurance providers. Probably the most common sign that the costs of medical and related treatment do not correspond to the actual treatment the elder receives is that there are problems with the care facility. These problems include an inadequate number or insufficiently trained staff, too many residents in the same physical space, and inadequate responses to questions about care.

Neglect of an elder can be difficult to see because it can often appear to be the decline of the elder’s physical or mental condition. However, these signs are common indicators of neglect in care or treatment: physical problems (bed sores, for example) that go untreated; unusual weight loss, malnutrition, or dehydration; unsanitary conditions, like bugs, dirt, dirty clothes or bedding; the elder being left unclean; hazardous living conditions, most often heating, fire hazards, water or electrical issues; inappropriate clothing or covering for the weather; and desertion of the elder.

Physical Abuse
While it is distressing to think that any elder would be physically abused, this form of elder abuse may have the clearest indicators. For example, unexplained injuries such as bruises, welts, or sores, especially if they appear symmetrically on both sides of the body, can be signs of physical abuse. Likewise, more serious injuries such as broken bones, sprains, or dislocations – without further explanation – suggest that an elder may have been physically abused.

Improper condition of the elder’s possessions may also imply physical abuse. Broken eyeglasses, dentures, or hearing aids can be signs of abuse, or at least neglect. Because it is often important for the elder to take their medications on a regular basis, either a report of drug overdose or what appears to be the failure to take medications regularly (that is, medication left over) can show physical abuse.

Actions of the elder’s caregiver may also be evidence of physical abuse. If the caregiver refuses to allow you to see the elder alone, there is a strong suggestion of abuse. Similarly, signs of restraint such as marks on the wrists, ankles, or waist imply improper treatment or abuse.

Sexual Abuse
Unfortunately, there are reported cases of sexual abuse of elders. Signs of this form of abuse include bruising in the breast or genital area, venereal disease or genital infection, unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding, or torn, stained, or bloody underwear.

It is also important to remember that health care facilities and care givers are responsible for providing medical and other care to elders. If they do not give adequate care, this failure to act can also be elder abuse.

This explanation of some indicators of elder abuse is intended to give a broad description of the types and signs of abuse, but does not describe each and every kind of action or failure to act that would support a claim for elder abuse.

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