Wise Words: The Red Flags of Elder Abuse

The Senior Citizens Legal Advocacy Program (SCLAP) provides free civil legal services to Orange County residents age 60 and over.  SCLAP is a part of the Legal Aid Society of Orange County (LASOC), which provides free civil legal services to persons of limited means and seniors living in Orange and southeast Los Angeles County.  In providing legal services to older Orange County residents, we are well aware of the growing incidents of elder abuse.

Orange County has about 496,404 residents age 60 and older, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.  Studies have shown that an estimated 1 in 10 community-dwelling older Americans will become a victim of abuse or neglect.  Research has also shown that elder abuse is significantly under-reported, with approximately 23 cases unreported for every reported instance of elder abuse.  There are certain risk factors that can be useful in anticipating the likelihood of abuse.  In her article, When the going gets tough:  caregiving and abuse, author Mary Twomey notes that caregiver characteristics associated with mistreatment include higher anxiety, depressive symptoms, fewer social contacts and greater perceived burden.  Care recipients who are isolated, have cognitive impairment and who themselves are physically or psychologically aggressive are at greater risk for abuse.

With the growing elderly population, the increase in the number of elderly experiencing dementia and related diseases, and the anticipated rise in abuse, it is important to be aware of the Risk Factors for abuse.  Elder abuse includes not only physical abuse, but psychological and financial abuse as well as neglect.  Some of the Red Flag warning signs of physical abuse may include inadequately explained fractures, bruises, cuts or burns.  Red Flag warning signs of psychological abuse may include the isolation of an elder or actions by a caregiver that are verbally aggressive or demeaning, controlling behavior or neglect.  Red Flag warning signs for financial abuse can include a change in living standards, unable to meet basic needs, or transferring property or authority when unable to understand the nature of the transaction.  Signs of self-neglect can include a lack of basic cleanliness, lack of adequate food, inappropriate clothing and unexplained sores or injuries.

We are very fortunate in Orange County to have excellent resources addressing elder abuse issues.  The UCI Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect has helpful information on its website about events and resources regarding elder abuse.  The Ageless Alliance, a nationwide social justice movement seeking to promote the dignity of older adults and to end elder abuse, was launched by the UCI Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology.  The Ageless Alliance is active in Orange County and is promoting Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which will take place June 15th.

We all need to be aware of the signs of elder abuse and what to do if we suspect that elder abuse is occurring.  In Orange County, you can call Adult Protective Services to make a confidential report or to discuss making a report.  The APS phone number is 1- 800-451-5155.  If you suspect that abuse is occurring in a residential care facility, you can contact the Orange County Council on Aging – Long-Term Care Ombudsman at 1-800-300-6222.  If you suspect abuse of an elder that takes place outside of Orange County, you can call the national Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, at 1-800-677-1116, for a referral to the appropriate organization.