After so many years of taking care of us, we hope that our elderly loved ones will be well cared for into their old age. The sad truth is that this doesn’t always happen. Elder abuse is a real and persistent concern.

A study published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine found that at least 10 percent of elderly people will be abused. Because the study’s data was based on self-reports, this number may actually be much higher.

What is elder abuse?

When most people picture abuse, they think of physical violence like hitting or shoving. But while physical abuse does happen, it is only part of the picture. Elder abuse also includes things like financial exploitation, neglect, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.

For example, abuse may be taking place if a caregiver is spending the elder’s money for their own personal gain. In fact, this problem is so widespread that the study called it a “virtual epidemic.” Financial abuse often has a secondary consequence of depriving the elder of the money they need to pay for food, medical care and other necessities.

Abuse may also exist in situations where the caregiver berates the elder, intentionally manipulates their emotions or isolates them from others.

Persistent neglect of the elder’s needs also qualifies as abuse. For example, neglectful abuse may take the form of a vulnerable adult being left alone for long periods of time, being allowed to remain in soiled clothing and bedding, or not getting access to appropriate nutrition or medical care.

Who is at risk for elder abuse?

Elder abuse can happen to anyone. However, elders with dementia and severe disabilities are often at greater risk. This is especially true for financial abuse, since the elder likely has someone else managing their finances.

Furthermore, it is important to recognize that elder abuse isn’t limited to nursing homes. In fact, the NEJM study noted that spouses and adult children are the most common abusers. Because of this, elders who live with family are more likely to be abused than those who live in nursing homes.

What should I do if I suspect my loved one is being mistreated?

A claim of elder abuse can seriously disrupt a family, especially if the alleged abuser is your sibling, parent or other close relative. As such, it is important to proceed carefully to ensure that the claim is thoroughly investigated and properly documented. For most people, this is too big of an issue to handle on your own.

Your best course of action is to contact an experienced elder law attorney. At Northwest Elder Law Group, our attorneys can work with you to help you understand the options available under the law.

If you suspect your parent or loved one is being abused, call our office at (206) 937-6102 to set up an initial consultation.