In June 2013, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), a component of the U.S. Department of Justice, released a document examining the roots of elder abuse. In large part, the NIJ found that little has been done to study abuse by caregivers, with a goal of eliminating caregiver abuse of those under their care. The NIJ study showed little attention or federal funding aimed at caregiver abuse of elders, with the problem essentially chalked up to caregiver stress.
While the causes of caregiver abuse may be unclear, and the problem receiving too little attention, what is clear is that the problem is real. And if you have a loved one who may be in danger of caregiver abuse, it’s an issue that certainly demands your immediate attention.
The first step is recognizing caregiver abuse, which may be physical or emotional. Particularly in the case of elders, caregiver abuse may also by financial.
With physical abuse, the most obvious sign is the person being abused saying as much. If someone receiving care – almost certainly in a more vulnerable position than he’s been in before – reports caregiver abuse, take that report seriously. Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease might make such a report suspect, but any report of abuse demands an investigation. Minus such a report, the American Society on Aging (ASA) advises looking for obvious physical signs of abuse, such as bruises or welts. Behavioral symptoms might include depression, anger or being easily startled.
Emotional abuse, which would include intimidation or humiliation, is likely to elicit symptoms like obvious emotional upset, withdrawal or, according to the ASA, “unusual behavior like sucking, rocking or even biting.”
Financial abuse may be harder to spot without access to a loved one’s banking records. But if that is the case, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, for example, advises looking for changes in a person’s signature or checks written by someone else and only signed by the loved one. Other signs to look for are your loved one advising of making large gifts, particularly to a caregiver, though any such gifts should be scrutinized as possible cover for financial abuse of some sort.
If any type of caregiver abuse may exist, it’s important to report it. If it is serious and urgent, call the police or 911 immediately. Otherwise, the proper authorities differ state-by-state. In Maryland, for example, if caregiver abuse is possibly occurring in a home setting, the state asks that it be reported to the state’s Adult Protective Services office. If the suspected abuse is taking place in a nursing home, that would fall to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Regardless, most helpline operators will know how to handle such a report. The National Center on Elder Abuse, meanwhile, offers a helpful online map with links to the appropriate resources in every state at ncea.acl.gov.