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Growing population, growing concern: Elder negligence and abuse

As the population of the United States ages, the risk of elder abuse may also grow. Be aware of its signs.

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, the fastest growing segment of the population in the United States are those age 85 and older. In less than 40 years the population of this age group will more than triple in size. The rise in growth is being caused by the aging of the Baby Boomer generation. Moreover, the population of those age 65 and older will also grow tremendously. The issue of elder abuse and neglect has recently become a well-known issue in Illinois as well as elsewhere in the U.S. and may only grow in concern as a greater percent of the U.S. population becomes older.

Elder abuse and negligence is generally defined as intentional acts that create serious risk of harm or cause harm to an elderly individual by a caretaker or person who has a relationship of trust with the elderly person. In Illinois, elder abuse is any knowing, intended or careless act that causes harm or serious risk of harm to an older person. The definition of harm not only includes physical harm but also mental, emotional and financial harm.

Some examples of elder abuse include:

  • Threatening to inflict or inflicting pain or injury.
  • Non-consensual sexual contact.
  • Causing mental pain or anguish through verbal or nonverbal acts.
  • Refusal or failure to provide food, shelter, protection or medical care.
  • Illegally misuse, concealment or taking of funds or property.

Elder mistreatment also knows not one segment of society. Men and women and individuals with different social status and ethnic backgrounds can suffer. The abuse can occur at home or at a residential facility, such as an assisted living facility, nursing home, or group home. Often, an individual may suffer more than one type of abuse at the same time, such as neglect and financial exploitation.

Warning signs

While one factor alone may not indicate abuse or negligence, the following signs can indicate a problem:

  • Frequent unexplained injuries or complaints of pain without clear injury.
  • Bruises, abrasions, burns, pressure marks and broken bones.
  • Bruises around the genital area or sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Fear of being alone with the caretaker or strained relationships and frequent arguments with the caretaker.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, unusual depression, or a sudden change in alertness.
  • Bedsores, poor hygiene, malnutrition, dehydration and unusual weight loss.
  • Sudden change in financial situation.

Too often elder abuse victims suffer in silence, so if loved ones notice a change in physical or mental condition, begin questioning the circumstances.

Risk factors

Certain risk factors may make an elderly individual more likely to suffer abuse. Older individuals with dementia or another cognitive impairment are at greater risk of neglect and abuse. Elderly individuals with dementia are at a greater risk to suffer abuse from their caretaker because of the caretaker's perceived burden and anxiety in providing care, and the condition can make the individual more physically and psychologically aggressive. Elders who live with someone else but are otherwise socially isolated are also more likely to suffer abuse. The individual has opportunity to abuse the elder yet the two are isolated from a larger community sheltering the abuse from being discovered. Finally, spouses and adult children can also be sources of risk, especially in situations where domestic violence was present and where adult children receive support.

Contact an attorney

If you believe a loved one is suffering from elder abuse, mistreatment or neglect in Illinois, contact an experienced elder abuse and nursing home negligence attorney to safeguard his or her health and dignity.

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