For many vulnerable older adults, family gatherings can unveil or even enable abuse. As Indiana elder law attorneys, Applegate & Dillman see the devastating impacts of elder abuse all too often. This holiday season, learn how to recognize the signs of elder abuse and what to do if you suspect your aging loved one is at risk.
What Constitutes Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse refers to the physical, emotional, sexual, or financial mistreatment of seniors aged 60 years or older. Common examples include:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Sexual abuse
Recognizing Elder Abuse Red Flags
Abusers are often manipulative masters of deception, tricking family and friends into believing there are reasonable explanations for any suspicious behaviors. However, there are several red flags that should prompt concern if you observe them in an elderly loved one:
- Unexplained bruises, cuts, burns, bite marks, or other injuries: While seniors do bruise and fall more easily, repeated or untreated wounds in characteristic shapes or locations should raise alarms. Look for grab marks, cigarette burns, and injuries during times the elder was isolated with a specific caregiver or delayed medical care.
- Drastic changes in hygiene, appearance, behavior, or mood: Declines in self-care, escalating confusion, agitation, unchecked depression, and social withdrawal can be signs of abuse.
- Isolation from other relationships: Abusers often cut off family ties and longtime friendships so no one questions the worsening state of the elder.
- Abnormal anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or fear: Many abuse victims live in a state of hypervigilance, flinching at sudden movements or displaying paranoia. Some develop Stockholm syndrome attachments to their abusers and lash out at those trying to help rescue them.
- Poor living conditions or lack of basic necessities: Look for obvious decline in care, such as poor nutrition and hygiene or lack of medical attention. Some signs include over/under medication, bedsores, unattended health needs, filth, and isolation.
- Unpaid bills, unusual bank account withdrawals, or altered wills: Financial exploitation drains elders’ accounts through exorbitant spending, cash withdrawals, wire transfers, and re-titling assets. Watch for bills piling up unpaid, though the elder used to pay all accounts reliably.
Reporting Elder Abuse in Indiana
If you suspect an elderly family member or friend is being abused or exploited, report your concerns immediately. In Indiana, you can contact Adult Protective Services (APS) at 1-800-992-6978 to have the situation investigated confidentially. Calling APS promptly can prevent ongoing harm and connect the elderly with supportive resources and services.
In more severe physical or sexual abuse cases requiring urgent law enforcement intervention, call 911 without hesitation. Be prepared to provide specifics like names, locations, timestamps, and the types of threats or injuries incurred.