Under California law, elder abuse is both a criminal and civil offense. Criminal elder abuse describes the willful infliction of physical or emotional suffering on an elder. Civil elder abuse includes any physical or financial abuse, neglect or abandonment resulting in physical or mental harm. Diminished capacity due to the elder’s advanced age, physical confinement, and medical condition make it difficult for victims to speak out about their abuse. Even when they do, perpetrators may blame the complaints on the elder’s senility, confusion, or dementia. Many victims have no family or friends left to care for them. They rely entirely upon the staff and caregivers at their nursing home or facility. That is why it is important for anyone who witnesses elder abuse to recognize the symptoms and report the abuse.
Signs of physical abuse include unexplained weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration. While lack of appetite is a common complaint amongst the elderly, caretakers are required by law to provide the food and service necessary to the patient’s health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, poor nutrition often leads to easy bruising, another sign of physical abuse. Look for bruises and skin damage in the shape of fingerprints or clustered marks from repeated striking or beating. Also notice any new scratches, cuts, welts, or fractures. Marks indicating pinching, choking, or gagging evidence acute instances of abuse, while increased bedsores show neglect, as when the patient is not turned over enough in bed.
While not as visible, suspicious behavior may also indicate abuse. Watch for undue agitation, anger, or defensiveness. These may be signs of mental suffering. Patients may also become non-responsive, hesitant, and anxious when asked to explain their abuse. They may feel increasingly isolated as they lose contact with family and friends. Always look for signs of fear, withdrawal, depression, and helplessness in determining whether there has been abuse. Remember that any social isolation, absence of assistance, or indifference toward the needs of the elderly may constitute abuse. Even if you are not related to the victim, report any suspicious activity to the proper authorities.