Elder abuse is a serious problem. According to the National Council on Aging, about 10 percent of all adults aged 60 and older have experienced some form of elder abuse. However, most researchers agree the actual percentages of seniors who experience abuse is much greater, as many cases of abuse never get reported. Knowing how to prevent elder abuse is the first step in creating a safe environment for your loved ones.
Types of Elder Abuse
Abuse comes in different forms. While some types of abuse may be obvious, other forms can easily go unnoticed. The elderly are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Understanding the different types of abuse and how to recognize them can help families prevent abuse of their elderly loved ones. The following are the most common types of elder abuse:
- Physical abuse can cause permanent and painful injuries. These injuries can occur when a caregiver hits, improperly transfers, or sexually abuses an elderly person. Signs of physical abuse may include bruises, broken bones, welts, or bed sores.
- Emotional abuse is one of the hardest types of abuse to recognize. Abusers get away with this form of abuse when they know that their victims are unwilling or unable to report the abuse. Emotional abuse can include intentional humiliation, social isolation, verbal abuse, and intimidation.
- Neglect can lead to severe physical and emotional damage. The law requires caregivers to provide their patients with certain services and rights. Neglect may include withholding food, failing to assist the patient with appropriate personal hygiene, depriving the elder of social support, and providing inadequate supervision.
- Financial abuse occurs when a caregiver unlawfully takes money from the person they are caring for. This can include stealing cash, having the elder sign over checks, or using the elder’s personal information to set up financial accounts or credit cards. The National Adult Protective Services Association reports that 90 percent of all financial abuse cases involve a member of the elderly adult’s family.
South Carolina Elder Abuse Laws
South Carolina has enacted several laws to help prevent elder abuse and punish those who commit it. Under South Carolina Code of Laws section 43-35-85, any person who abuses an elderly adult is guilty of a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. If the abuse results in great physical injury, the perpetrator may face 15 years in jail. If the abuse results in death, the perpetrator can face 30 years in prison.
The state understands that abuse can be difficult to spot. Because of this, South Carolina classifies certain professionals as mandatory reporters. Under the law, if a mandatory reporter suspects any type of abuse they are required to report it. Mandatory reporters in South Carolina include:
- Medical examiners;
- Mental health professionals;
- Staff and volunteers at nursing homes;
- Law enforcement; and
- Certain religious practitioners.
Mandatory reporters have a legal obligation to report signs of abuse. Failing to report suspected abuse is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
How to Prevent Elder Abuse
Understanding abuse and being aware that it can happen is one of the best ways to prevent abuse. Regardless of your loved one’s care arrangement, there are steps that you can take to minimize the chances that they will become the victim of abuse.
Keep in Touch
Sadly, one of the primary reasons that elder abuse goes unreported is social isolation. When an elderly person feels alone, they may feel ashamed and worried about reporting the abuse. One of the best things that you can do to prevent an elderly family member from being abused is maintaining your relationship with them. Even if you don’t live close to your elderly family member, frequent phone calls can help them feel like they have support. Knowing that someone they trust and love is available can make it easier for a senior to feel comfortable reporting abuse.
Trust Your Gut
Whether your loved one is staying in a nursing home, with a caregiver, or a member of the family, always trust your gut. If something doesn’t look right or you are uncomfortable with a care provider or facility, move on to a different option. If you do notice something that is not right, report it to the proper authorities. Even if you choose another care option, your diligence can help prevent someone else’s loved one from being abused.
Educate Your Loved One About Financial Scams
It is becoming more and more common for seniors to become victims of online scams. Criminals prey on the elderly and those without support to steal from them. Online scams are becoming more sophisticated and can be harder to spot. Requests for money can come via the internet, through the mail, or by phone. Make sure your loved one knows to never give out their social security number, financial information, or send money to someone they don’t know.
If your loved one has a regular source of income such as social security or retirement, suggest using direct deposit instead of paper checks. Vulnerable seniors may be convinced to sign over their checks to someone they feel they can trust.
Know the Signs of Abuse
Recognizing abuse is one of the key steps to preventing further abuse. Frequent visits can help you notice if there are changes to your family member’s appearance or demeanor. Common signs of abuse that you should watch for include:
- Unexplained bruises or broken bones
- Social withdrawal
- Weight loss
- Unexplained health issues
- Changes in financial affairs
Trust an Experienced Attorney to Help
Nobody deserves to live in fear or pain. If someone you care about has been abused, they may be eligible for compensation. Speak with a firm with experience dealing with elder abuse and nursing home neglect—someone who takes elder abuse seriously, who will handle your case with compassion and help you understand your rights moving forward.