Elder Abuse During the Holidays
Written by Cooper & Friedman PLLC on December 22, 2022
It might come as a surprise to some that the months around the holidays are when elders are more susceptible than ever to senior abuse.
Abuse can come in many forms and happen to anyone – sometimes the victim can even be unaware that they’re suffering abuse, because not every form is as apparent as physical or verbal abuse is. This unawareness is also true in regards to us: their family, friends, and loved ones. When it comes to elder abuse, because as each of us gets wrapped up into our own lives, visiting the aging adults in our lives can’t always be a priority and that means that there are less opportunities to observe any kind of abuse happening.
On one hand, the holidays can be a great time to rectify that statistic, though, and do a thorough check on your senior’s health and wellness if there is self-neglect or caretaker abuse happening. But, in the unfortunate case of another family member abusing the senior, the holidays can present a perfect time for that abuse to escalate.
With the increased consumption of alcohol, higher spending habits, and disrupted schedules, stress and tension tend to increase around the holidays. This is also a time when family gets together and, for the sake of ‘keeping the peace,’ more abuse is tolerated than normal.
According to the CDC, the most common types of elder abuse are:
- Physical abuse
- Financial abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
This can happen whether your senior lives alone with a part-time or full-time caretaker, in a nursing home or assisted living community, or with a family member. But there are signs to recognize when abuse is happening, and ways that you can help.
Physical, Sexual, and Neglect Abuse
The holidays, as festive and fun as they can be, can fuel stress, frustration, and anger in caretakers that feel overwhelmed and underappreciated. If a senior’s caretaker has their own family to take care of outside of their job, it can be very easy for them to shirk certain responsibilities in favor of getting home quicker, spending more time doing things that they need to do instead of things that are necessary to a senior’s wellbeing, and generally be more absent than other times of the year. This can quickly deteriorate to severe and abusive reactions to small inconveniences and behaviors if the caregiver cannot regulate their emotions or needs.
In nursing homes, as well, with so many of the caretakers taking time off to be with their family, there may only be lesser-qualified or even temporary workers available to carry out the caregiving services that seniors need. This lack of normal services can quickly lead to the environment becoming neglectful or intentionally abusive.
Look for signs of physical, sexual, and neglectful abuse when you visit your loved ones – if it would be beneficial, have a conversation with your senior about their state of care. The state of their living space is always a good indicator, as is their physical wellbeing, such as dental health, weight, hygiene, etc. and your loved ones may trust you enough to tell you about anything strange if you ask directly. Many seniors, however, will be reluctant to admit abuse due to shame, humiliation, or fear of the consequences, such as being moved into a home or into a different home, the abuser getting into trouble, or being cut off financially, socially, or emotionally.
Regardless if the abuse has happened before or if it’s the first time the behavior has been shown, it’s still abuse. With routine abuse, disrupted schedules such as more time off from work or school can lead to more time that the abuser can spend around a senior, giving them opportunities to commit the abuse. Pay attention to the actions and mood of seniors, as well, and be on the lookout for acting withdrawn, lashing out, depression, or any other unusual behavior.
With as much money being spent around the holiday on food, gifts, goodwill, and décor, financial abuse is one of the most prominent problems with the least-prominent signs. Unless you have direct access to your senior’s bank account or the financial abuse has impacted them so severely that it shows physically (malnourishment, under-medicated, or without power/water/internet because the senior couldn’t afford them), there are times that you must rely on the senior to tell you something is going on in order to notice.
There are still signs to look for, though, when it comes to financial abuse. If a new group or individual has begun to spend more time socializing with or taking care of the senior without being a part of a reliable organization such as a caregiving service or social placement, that might be a sign that this person(s) is attempting to financially abuse the senior. If you notice a new spending pattern, or that the senior is buying things that they themselves don’t use that someone else takes advantage of, that’s also a form of financial abuse.
There is also the abuse that isn’t necessarily as intimate as someone in the senior’s life financially abusing them. Scam calls have a sharp uptick during the holiday season, with so many people willing to give to charity or buy last minute gifts where they can find them. Knowing that their targets are elderly and might not be sound of mind or fully comprehend what they’re doing is certainly a kind of abuse that needs to be explained to seniors that don’t have much experience with technology or finance security.
Emotional abuse is often present in tandem with other kinds of abuse, and it runs especially rampant when there are large power rifts between the senior and their abuser. If a senior cannot function without the help of another, or cannot complete a task, the exchange of power becomes unbalanced, and threats are easy to make. Without the ability to do anything about it, the elder must acquiesce to the demands of the abuser or suffer the consequences.
The holidays present many opportunities for this kind of thing. An abuser may threaten social isolation, such as not driving the senior to a gathering if they don’t do or pay something, and dangle their disabilities in front of them. With more leverage, abusers can take advantage of all the things that the holidays bring – money for gifts, a car for transportation, cooking for family, etc. Be sure to keep a lookout for signs of physical abuse, but also pay attention to how a senior acts around their caregiver or the individuals they spend a lot of time with. If they are constantly checking in, are unusually quiet, withdrawn, or out-of-character, have a private conversation with them, but be gentle; there is a high probability that the senior is afraid or unwilling to admit to abuse being committed against them.
If you or someone you love has experienced elder abuse in the State of Kentucky and are in need of an experienced elder law attorney, give the lawyers at the Cooper & Friedman law firm a call. The attorneys at Cooper and Friedman PLLC have over 50 years of combined experience defending the rights of elders and nursing home neglect victims. Contact us with questions you might have or schedule a free case consultation with an attorney by calling 502-459-555 today.