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December 29, 2012

Recognizing the Behavioural Signs of Elder Abuse


Recognizing the behavioural signs of Elder Abuse
By Tobi Abramson

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of elder abuse is crucial in getting help for older adult victims. Professionals often initially miss many signs and symptoms that can indicate abuse as they can overlap with other symptoms of deteriorating mental health. Recognizing elder abuse is central to prompt intervention and to reducing the impact of abuse on the older person’s psychological and physical well-being.
Symptoms can be divided into the physical or concrete and the behavioral, although there is often overlap between the two. Professionals and the lay public are most familiar with concrete symptoms. Yet behavioral signs can be extremely important in detecting abuse and neglect, especially in people who have communication challenges and are unable to express what has happened or is happening to them. In many cases, physical signs of abuse may not yet be present or noticed, so behavioral signs are often the first indicators of abuse. Usually people who have been abused exhibit a combination of physical and behavioral changes.

Telltale signs of physical abuse include: bruises, especially in cluster or regular patterns, black eyes, welts, laboratory evidence of overdoses of medication or lack of administration of medication, to name a few. Some older adults may verbally report being physically abused.
From a behavioral standpoint, older adults who are being physically abused may present with anger, fear, anxiety, nervousness or depression. They may avoid eye contact, their eyes may dart or they may even startle easily or cringe. They also may exhibit sudden apathy, or withdrawal behavior. In some cases, the caretaker may refuse visitors or not allow the elder to be alone with visitors.
Psychosomatic complaints are another common indicator of abuse. For men, the most common complaint is stomachaches, whereas women tend to complain of headaches. Other behavioral signs to look for can include changes in the manner in which affection is shown, particularly when this display is unusual or inappropriate, or sudden changes, such as fears of being touched.  Sleep patterns can change, too, with an onset of nightmares or difficulty sleeping. These, too, may be telltale signs of physical abuse or neglect.

Emotional abuse by definition means the older adult suffers insults, threats, intimidation, humiliation or harassment, causing distress. Classic symptoms of this type of abuse can be seen when the older adult is emotionally upset or when the elder displays agitated or fearful behavior, especially in the presence of a specific individual. The older adult may withdraw or become apathetic. It is possible that older adults who are experience emotional abuse may regress and engage in unusual behavior like sucking, rocking or even biting. Older adults may experience depression or mood swings when they are victims of emotional abuse. In addition to the behavioral symptoms, some may verbally express suffering this type of abuse or mistreatment.


Abridged
SOURCE:        American Society on Aging
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