As Elder Law Attorneys, we at Ross & Shoalmire are committed to the safety and security of seniors throughout the ArkLaTex. For us, serving our older citizens means more than providing legal services and helping with nursing home admissions. We also think it’s important to educate the entire community about the risks our older friends and neighbors face when they are alone and vulnerable. We support adult protective service organizations throughout the area and share their message about looking out for people who can’t always look out for themselves. Here, we share vital information about potential signs of abuse, neglect, and exploitation to help our readers understand when they should report their suspicions to the authorities.
Seniors Are Vulnerable in Many Ways
It’s hard for most of us to imagine someone deliberately targeting an elderly person, but sadly, it happens all the time. Where we have sympathy for someone who is lonely, confused, and vulnerable, abusers see someone who is alone, powerless, and unguarded—an easy target. The National Center on Elder Abuse says that the elderly can be victims of seven different forms of abuse:
- Physical abuse. This is physical force that includes grabbing and jerking someone by the arm, hitting, slapping, or purposely dropping them. The elderly may be victims of stranger attacks, but more often, they are abused by caregivers and family members.
- Sexual abuse. An older person with dementia is not capable of giving consent for sexual contact. This is one form of sexual abuse, but elderly people are also molested and raped by strangers. Older women, in particular, can also be seen as easy prey by violent attackers.
- Emotional abuse. While emotional abuse is harder to identify and prove, it can be just as harmful as physical abuse. Tormenting someone with words, withholding access to family and friends, and verbally abusing someone can inflict anguish, pain, and distress.
- Financial exploitation. This kind of theft is all too common. Whether it is a scam phone call or a family member who is improperly using a senior’s funds, property, or assets, financial exploitation can wipe out an older person’s life savings.
- Neglect. If the person responsible for the wellbeing of a homebound or incapacitated senior refuses or fails to fulfill their duties, they are guilty of neglect. Neglect can lead to starvation, infection, depression, and—ultimately—death.
- Abandonment. If an elderly person is deserted by the individual charged with their care, they could be in grave danger. Unless they are capable of reaching out for help, it could be weeks before their isolation is discovered.
- Self-neglect. Whether it is an early indication of dementia or a manifestation of depression, when an older person stops taking care of themselves, it can threaten their health and safety.
The trick with any of these forms of abuse is someone noticing it is happening. Isolated older people often don’t report these incidents because they are embarrassed or they simply don’t know where to turn.
Signs of Elder Abuse
It often falls to family members to notice and report signs of abuse, so when an elder does not have family members who check in on them, it is important that others in the community take notice. If you have an elderly neighbor, regular customer, client, or acquaintance, be on the lookout for signs of abuse and neglect such as the following:
- Changes in physical appearance. Messy, unwashed hair, dirty or unchanged clothing, missing glasses, and signs of fatigue can all be indications that a person is being neglected.
- Bruises or other injuries. Marks on the arms, bruising on the face, burns, bandages, limping, and other signs of injury should be investigated, even if the person claims to have fallen or had an accident.
- Unusual absence. If you normally see someone on a regular basis—whether as a customer, a neighbor on their porch or in the park, in a class, or at church—and they are suddenly absent, take the time to follow up. You could be the only person to notice!
- Neglecting household tasks. Whether inside or out, when household tasks such as yard care, collecting and opening mail, taking out the garbage, and cleaning are neglected, it can be a sign that something is wrong.
- Changes in routines. When an elderly person is abused or neglected, they often withdraw from their normal activities. If you notice that someone has stopped going on daily walks, attending church, volunteering, or singing in the choir, check in on them.
- New behaviors. Signs of trauma can include behaviors like rocking, picking at skin, not talking, and more. Any new behavior should be evaluated to determine the cause.
The more of us out there keeping an eye on our senior citizens, the better.
How to Report in Texas
If someone is missing from their regular routine, you should call 911 to ask for a wellness check. You can also call the Texas Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) at 800-458-9858 to report suspected abuse in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Call the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) at 1-800-252-5400 to report suspected abuse of an elderly person living in their own home.
How to Report in Arkansas
In Arkansas, Adult Protective Services (APS) has an Adult Maltreatment Hotline. If you suspect abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an elderly person, call 800-482-8049. If you think a person is in imminent danger, call the local police or 911.