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Health Information Abuse and Neglect of Older Adults

Just one older adult experiencing mistreatment at the hands of a caregiver or family member is hard to cope with. Yet, the actual numbers of those who suffer this kind of abuse are staggering. It's been estimated by the National Research Council that between one and two million Americans 65 and older have been abused, neglected, exploited or mistreated by the very people that they depend on for care.

"When you add self neglect to these numbers, you begin to see just how large this problem is," says Martin J. Gorbien, MD, director of geriatric medicine at Rush University Medical Center. "There is a large, growing population of isolated and disenfranchised people who need our help."

This abuse can take many forms:

  • Self neglect
  • Caregiver neglect
  • Financial exploitation
  • Emotional abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sexual abuse

"Some signs can be more difficult to easily attribute to abuse in older adults, because they may also be caused by other contributing health or psychological factors not as common in other patients," says Gorbien.

Common signs of abuse in older adults include the following:

  • Certain types of fractures and sprains
  • Bruises, black eyes, lacerated skin and other marks on the skin that can't be explained
  • Cuts, puncture marks and burns
  • Broken eyeglasses and torn clothing
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Withdrawal
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

"All of these are good reasons to look deeper at what's going on in an older person's life. Even if it's not abuse, you'll want to bring them in for professional attention," Gorbien says.

Keeping an eye out for your loved one can be challenging if they live too far away for regular visits. Gorbien suggests:

  • Keeping in touch with regular phone calls
  • Checks and balances using the help of people you trust who live in the area
  • Surprise visits to see the level of care your loved one is receiving

He warns that you'll want to be especially aware of any signs of undue influence on older adult by a caregiver or other people in their lives. "The most important thing is to not let the person become isolated," says Gorbien. "Phone calls, cards, letters and e-mails can really help you keep in touch, when far away. If you live close by, regular visits are the best way to check on the health and well-being of your loved one."

For your convenience we've put together a list of local agencies for reporting elder abuse. If you suspect someone is being abused, please call them right away.

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • For information on medical services for older adults, visit the Geriatric Services home page. Or call (800) 757-0202.
  • To learn more about our a free health and aging membership program for older adults and the people who care for them, visit the Rush Generations home page. Or call (800) 757-0202. Rush Generations can help you with your goals for vital, healthy living.
  • Are you facing tough decisions as you or a loved one grow older? The Anne Byron Waud Patient and Family Resource Center for Healthy Aging offers help with your current needs and difficult questions. For more information, see their home page or phone (312) 563-2700 or (800) 755-4411.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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