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Signs and Symptoms of Elder Abuse

The United States Census Bureau projected California’s elderly population aged 65 and older will have grown at a larger rate than any other state and have reached 6.4 million by 2025. The number of elderly Californians needing nursing homes or long-term care is also projected to nearly double by 2030. Currently close to 110,000 California residents live in licensed nursing homes and residential elderly care facilities, while at least 150,000 more reside in unlicensed assisted living facilities that may not be able to properly care for them. This exploding population in California and in care facilities is making the issue of elder abuse a pressing and growing problem in the state and nationwide.

What is Elder Abuse?

California has criminalized elder abuse and prosecutors may choose to file either a felony or a misdemeanor criminal charge depending on the severity of the wrongful conduct. Elder abuse under the California statute includes:

  • Physical abuse such as inflicting physical injuries, sexual abuse, neglect, abduction, and abandonment;
  • Financial abuse by means of fraud or theft; and
  • Any other treatment resulting in pain or suffering, either physical or mental.

In addition to criminal elder abuse laws resulting in fines and imprisonment, violating them may subject a person to civil penalties for personal injuries or wrongful death.

How You Can Recognize Elder Abuse

Unfortunately, most perpetrators of elder abuse are either family members of the victim or their caretaker. It is important for everyone to be aware of the signs of elder abuse. Recognizing the common signs is the first step toward preventing the victim from suffering further harm. Many times, elders are afraid and/or are not able to effectively communicate the harm being caused and therefore make the perfect victims. They may also be mentally impaired, incompetent, or on medications, which confuse them or cause significant memory problems.

The best hope for an elder abuse victim is often an attentive, vigilant loved one who notices something is not right and does something to stop it. There are different indicators of each type of elder abuse, but if you notice any of the following signs you should immediately report them to the elder's physician and/or an appropriate individual or agency:

Overall Signs of Elder Abuse

  • Malnutrition or dehydration not directly connected with a diagnosed disease or illness;
  • Lack of personal hygiene;
  • Untreated or severe bedsores (commonly called pressure ulcers or decubitus ulcers);
  • Unexplained bruises or contusions;
  • A smell of fecal matter or urine;
  • Any unexplained injury not being properly treated;
  • Sunken cheeks or eyes which may evidence their circulation is poor;
  • Sudden or frequent disappearance of personal possessions or medical aids;
  • Lack of adequate food and water;
  • Their living area or care facility lacks basic amenities such as heating, cooling, plumbing, or electricity;
  • Frequent emergency room or hospital visits; and/or
  • Observing a caregiver administering the wrong type or amount of medication.

Behavioral Indicators of Abuse

  • Sudden changes in behavior such as depression, anxiety, agitation, anger, fear, or defensiveness;
  • Isolating or withdrawing from others;
  • Ambivalence or non-responsiveness;
  • Sudden confusion or disorientation;
  • Difficulty or incoherence when communicating or telling stories;
  • Telling implausible stories to explain how an injury occurred;
  • Unwillingness to speak freely;
  • The staff refusing to allow the elderly person to be alone with family members;
  • Verbally aggressive or derogatory comments by a caregiver to the elderly person;
  • The caregiver acts in a controlling manner;
  • Signs of fear when a caregiver is present or a reluctance to be left alone with a caregiver; and/or
  • A caregiver’s refusal to allow the elderly person to receive visits, make and receive phone calls, or send mail.

Indicators of Physical and/or Sexual Abuse

  • Scratches, pinches, welts, cuts or burns;
  • Fractured or broken bones;
  • Sexually transmitted infections;
  • Bruises on the thighs or external genitals;
  • Genital bleeding, pain, or irritation;
  • Inappropriate relationships or behavior between the elderly person and their caregiver;
  • Unexplained weight loss; and/or
  • Painful response to touching parts of their body.

These are just some of the common signs associated with elder abuse/neglect. The most important thing is to remain aware and observant at all times when going to visit your loved one. Pay attention to their mood and behavior from one visit to the next. Also make note of physical and cognitive changes that occur over time. It is important to trust your instincts. If you believe that your loved one is being neglected or abused, voice your concerns.

For a free and confidential consultation with an experienced nursing home neglect lawyer, please call us directly at (866) 338-7079, or click here to submit your inquiry online.

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