Financial abuse of older people

Abused older people are an invisible group in our society. While child abuse and general domestic abuse get a great deal of coverage in the media, elder abuse does not.

And contrary to public perception, elder abuse does not only happen in institutions: it happens in the community.

15 June it is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. This is the time to find out how to recognise the signs of this abuse: someone close to you might need help urgently.

There are several types of abuse: financial, emotional, physical/sexual and neglect. In all of these instances, the older person is often isolated from other people, and seems to be fearful of their caregiver/s.

Signs of financial abuse

  • Unusual activity in someone's bank account, or strange signatures on their bank slips
  • Pressure by family members or acquaintances to be given signing rights or power of attorney even if the older person is quite capable of managing their finances
  • If the older person has unpaid bills, or their electricity is cut off, it could mean that the person who was supposed to pay the bills has pocketed the money
  • If someone is well off, but they are placed in a nursing home that doesn't reflect their financial status, it could also be a warning signal
  • If someone supposedly has money, but they lack necessary personal items or electronic goods such as a TV, their money may be siphoned off elsewhere

Signs of emotional abuse

  • The person is agitated for no apparent reason
  • The person seems helpless and/or is fearful and is scared to do things that were not a problem before
  • He/she is hesitant to talk openly
  • He/she is depressed, withdrawn, angry
  • The person tells implausible stories to explain certain things

Signs of physical abuse

  • Regular unexplained cuts and bruises
  • Poorly cared for injuries that may be hidden under clothing
  • Malnourishment
  • Poor skin condition or hygiene
  • Weight loss
  • Uneven hair loss
  • Soiled clothing or bedding
  • An untreated medical condition
  • The wearing of inappropriate clothing for the weather conditions

Neglect can be both active and passive and usually means depriving an older person of essentials such as food, water, warmth, medical treatment or clothing. This is sometimes done on purpose and sometimes is the result of ignorance.

Many elderly people who are abused are hesitant to accuse their children or grandchildren openly, especially if they are in some way dependent on them.

If you suspect someone you know is being abused, do call the Halt Elder Abuse toll free line (HEAL) on 0800 003081. You may be saving a life.

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