How to spot elder domestic abuse

Published 9:41 pm Sunday, September 22, 2013

Too often we hear about child abuse, sexual assaults and murders of young girls and assaults at colleges on women.

While protecting our children is critical to us, so too is taking care of the other end of the age spectrum – our aging population. Elder abuse doesn’t always make the headlines, but its exists. The statistics are frightening.

Family members cause more than half of all reported elder abuse and neglect: children 31-33 percent, spouses 14-15 percent and other relatives 12-13 percent. That makes reporting the crime very challenging, and prosecuting it even more so. Seniors who have mental or physical disabilities are at the greatest risk of abuse. Abuse itself comes in many forms – physical, financial, neglect, psychological and emotional abuse and abandonment.

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The challenge is recognizing signs and then doing something to break the cycle before the degree of abuse escalates to hospitalization, financial disaster or death of the victim. Physical abuse is easy to recognize with cuts, bruises, welts, unreported injuries or any indication of poor skin condition or hygiene, dehydration, weight loss, burns or soiled clothing. Other forms of abuse are less easily identified, such as psychological abuse leading to fear, withdrawal, hesitation in talking openly, confusion, agitation and improbable stories or explanations of events.

Adult children are often involved in financial abuse, which is indicated by unusual activity in bank accounts, signatures on checks that don’t represent the senior’s signature, changes in a will, giving power of attorney to someone, overdue bills, rent or mortgages and missing items of value.

Caregiver abuse often shows up as inappropriate displays of affection by the caregiver, access denial by the caregiver to others wishing to see or talk to the senior, aggressive behavior toward the senior or not allowing the senior to talk to or be alone with others. The fear of abuse is real, and often very justified. So what is the abused person, concerned neighbor, family member or friend to do?

If there is immediate danger or a need for help, always call 911 for the police. If you’re the person in an abusive situation, make a plan, learn about domestic violence support groups and know being safe is better than being in a violent or abusive home situation. Here are some steps to take to be prepared to get away from an abusive situation:

1. Give someone you trust a spare key to your home; important papers; a set of clothes, prescriptions and at least a little bit of money to hold for you.

2. Retain any evidence of physical abuse, like ripped or torn clothes or photos of injuries.

3. Plan a safe time when you can get away and know where to go. Be sure to tell someone what’s happening and have phone numbers of reliable friends and family.

4. If you’ve been injured, go to an emergency room or doctor and report the incident and have everything documented in writing by the people caring for you.

5. If you can, arrange ahead of time for a safe place to get away, do so, and don’t tell the abuser anything about where you are or why you left.

6. Pre-arrange for an emergency alert signal with neighbors, like a porch light left on, to notify them to call the police immediately.

7. Contact your local domestic violence center to learn your rights and ways to protect yourself from becoming or remaining a victim of abuse.

8. Know the toll-free Victim Hotline to report abuse or seek help anywhere in the US – 800-621-4673 because there is no excuse for domestic abuse!

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert on Medicare and issues of aging. His consulting practice serves clients in Henderson, Polk and Brevard counties. He is the author of Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease, available as a Kindle book on and at the Polk County Senior Center. His podcasts can be heard weekly at Contact him at 828-696-9799 or by email at