Physical Abuse of Elders

Physical abuse is the intentional use of physical force to cause pain, illness, injury, distress, functional impairment, or death. While no one should be subject to abuse, physical elder abuse is especially disturbing. Many older people are frail or dependent on others for their care and physical safety. Unfortunately, instead of receiving the help and protection they deserve, many Michigan seniors are victims of elder abuse.

There are several types of elder abuse, including physical abuse, financial exploitation, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), approximately one in ten people over the age of 60 have suffered some form of abuse. The National Council on Elder Abuse (NCEA) estimates that elder abuse is severely underreported, with perhaps as few as one in 24 cases of abuse actually being reported.

Physical elder abuse is a serious problem, and puts seniors at great risk. Older people are often not in a position to protect themselves from physical abuse, and may need intervention to stop it. That may require the involvement of a family member or friend, and sometimes, the advocacy of an elder law attorney.

Recognizing Signs of Physical Abuse in the Elderly

There are many reasons that physical abuse in the elderly goes unreported. Some older people have mental or physical disabilities that not only make them vulnerable to abuse, but make it difficult for them to tell someone about it. Many seniors are ashamed or embarrassed at being victimized; still others may fear retaliation or negative consequences for reporting physical abuse.

Therefore, it is important to be aware of signs and examples of physical abuse in the elderly. These may include:

  • Unexplained bruises, welts, or lacerations
  • Broken bones, including skull fractures
  • Open wounds, cuts, or punctures
  • Untreated injuries in various stages of healing
  • Broken eyeglasses or frames or physical evidence of punishment
  • Marks on wrists or ankles that suggest the senior may have been restrained
  • Lab results showing medication overdose or inappropriately low levels of prescribed medication

Signs of physical elder abuse are not just limited to marks on a senior’s body or belongings. There are other signs that could suggest elder abuse, like:

  • A sudden change in an older person’s mood or behavior, including despondency, anxiety, and increased fearfulness
  • A caregiver’s refusal to allow friends or family members to visit the older person without the caregiver present
  • The older person’s report of being hit, slapped, kicked, or otherwise mistreated

While most of us think we would respond instantly to an elderly loved one reporting abuse, it can be easy to discount such reports as the result of dementia, medication-induced delirium, or mental illness. Most people don’t want to believe that a family member’s caregiver could be abusive (especially when that caregiver is another family member). Unfortunately, when a senior’s report of physical abuse is not believed, they may not continue to report abuse, suffering in silence. It’s important to take every allegation of abuse seriously.

Why Does Physical Abuse of Elders Happen?

It can be difficult to understand how and why someone would hurt a vulnerable older person. Often, though not always, seniors experience physical abuse by a caregiver. Sometimes abuse is carried out by paid caregivers in a facility or the senior’s home. Sometimes a family member, especially one who is exclusively responsible for the care of an older person, becomes abusive. Caregiving can be extremely stressful, especially when the caregiver is overburdened and there is no prospect of relief. While stress is no excuse, it often contributes to an abusive situation.

If you are a caregiver and fear that you are in danger of abusing someone in your care, an elder law attorney can connect you with resources to help protect you and the older person you are caring for before abuse, or further abuse, happens.

Getting Help for Physical Elder Abuse in Michigan

If you are being abused, or believe that a family or friend is the victim of physical elder abuse, an experienced elder law attorney can help. Elder law attorneys focus on the spectrum of legal issues that affect older people, including physical abuse.

An elder law attorney can help seniors suffering from abuse and their families in a variety of ways, including:

  • Taking necessary steps to immediately prevent further abuse
  • Removing an offending party from any position that enabled them to commit abuse
  • Having someone appointed to help with the senior’s needs, care, and treatment using a power of attorney, guardianship, or conservatorship.
  • Developing a care plan for the senior and a plan to finance their care costs
  • Seeking criminal remedies, where appropriate, against an offending party.

If you have concerns about elder abuse in Michigan, click here for information on Adult Protective Services. We invite you to learn more about our elder rights advocacy services and to contact Estate Planning & Elder Law Services to schedule a consultation.