Many people don’t realize how common elder abuse is, but it’s a frightening problem for older adults. Seniors can be vulnerable to physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse, and they can victims of neglect. Elder abuse and neglect have serious impacts on your physical and mental health, and these experiences can feel profoundly isolating. To protect the older population, anyone who works with seniors or who has aging loved ones should know how to prevent elder abuse.
Hopefully, you have family, friends, or healthcare providers who understand the signs of elder abuse and are looking out for your safety. However, it’s always important to be able to protect and advocate for yourself.
Here Are Four Ways You Can Protect Yourself from Elderly Abuse
1. Know the signs of elder abuse.
Being able to recognize the signs of abuse or neglect could help you get out of a bad situation before it worsens. Abuse often starts small and gradually escalates, so you might not notice that you’re being mistreated. If you see these signs in yourself, though, it’s probably time to reach out to someone you trust for help:
- You need assistance with daily hygiene tasks, but your caregiver isn’t helping you fulfill those needs.
- You don’t receive enough food or water every day.
- Your home seems cluttered or dirty, or you’re concerned about safety hazards.
- Someone else is handling your finances, but you feel like your needs aren’t being met.
- You’re being pressured to sign a power of attorney or other legal documents that you didn’t agree to.
- You rarely have contact with other people except your caregiver.
- Your caregiver is verbally or physically aggressive.
2. Plan for the future.
No one knows what the future holds. No matter your current state of health and well-being, you should have a clear plan for the coming years. By arranging your financial and healthcare matters now, you protect yourself in case your physical or cognitive health declines and you become unable to make those decisions for yourself.
Elder abuse often happens when family or other caregivers are put in control of the senior’s finances. If the older adult isn’t able to advocate for their needs and wants, an untrustworthy person could steal from them without their knowledge.
You can put safeguards for your future in place by setting up direct deposit for your Social Security or other sources of income. This reduces the risk of someone else getting access to your money. If you need assistance managing your money, only ask a family member or friend you completely trust. Another option is to hire a professional money manager to handle your finances.
One of the best ways you can plan ahead and protect yourself from elderly abuse is to designate a power of attorney. Your power of attorney will legally be able to make financial and healthcare decisions for you if you become incapacitated or are no longer able to manage your own affairs. Similarly, you can create a living will, which states your wishes for your medical treatment if you are no longer able to communicate them.
Declining health is a common worry for seniors. You can give yourself peace of mind by making a plan for your future today. Even if you never need to use your power of attorney, living will, or other safeguards, it’s always better to be prepared. By expressing and documenting your needs now, you’ll maintain your autonomy later in life.
3. Be skeptical.
Approaching everything with caution can be tiring, but it’s critical for older adults who are vulnerable to abuse. Unfortunately, abusive people can be extremely sneaky and manipulative. Before you agree to a request or give anyone your money, consider the ways in which the situation might be suspicious.
Some scammers target older adults because they believe that seniors are less likely to recognize the scam. If someone offers you a loan, grant, prize, or investment, be cautious. Typically, if something seems too good to be true, it is. If someone calls you on the phone asking for your bank information or Social Security number, do not tell them. Scammers have a variety of clever setups and explanations that can make them sound legitimate, so no matter how genuine the call seems, it is always better to err on the side of caution.
Take your time when you’re reviewing legal documents or considering making a large purchase. If someone is trying to rush you through a major decision like this, they might not have your best interests in mind. Talk to someone you trust if you have any concerns or hesitations about a big purchase or a legal decision.
Be mindful of how you handle sensitive paperwork, too. If possible, keep your important documents in a locked file cabinet or in another secure location. Shred your bank statements or other documents with identifying information before you throw them away.
4. Maintain your social network.
One of the most common elder abuse tactics is to isolate the individual from their friends and family. When you rarely see anyone except your caregiver, it can take a long time for a loved one to see the signs of abuse or for you to reach out for help.
Staying in regular contact with trusted friends, family, and neighbors is critical for protecting yourself against elder abuse. You can talk to your loved ones if you have any concerns about abuse or neglect, and they can step in and help you out if something is wrong. Even if you don’t mention your experiences, they’re more likely to notice that you’ve been the victim of elder abuse if they see you frequently.
If you don’t have close friends or family nearby, you could meet new people in your area through a local senior center, meetup group, or volunteer organization. Not only does this provide a valuable support system to protect against elder abuse, but it also benefits your overall mental and emotional health.
Elder abuse is a devastating and widespread problem, and everyone must do their part to prevent it. Don’t let anyone make you believe that you’re not in control of your own decisions. Protect yourself today and in the future by making legal arrangements for your care, and stay watchful for the signs of abuse. If you have any worries at all about your safety or well-being, speak to someone as soon as possible.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides mental health services for older adults who have experienced abuse or neglect as well as a number of other psychological concerns. Reach out to us today to learn more about our practice or to schedule a consultation.