Sue returned to her mom’s home after lived overseas for several years. When she walked in the door, she was shocked by the condition of her mother and her home. Her sister said that she was caring for their mother, even complaining about how exhausted she was from cleaning, taking their mom to the doctor, and managing the bills. But another contrary story was coming into view.
Her mom had bruises all over her body, she was unusually thin, her kitchen was a mess, bugs were squirming around, food was moldy in the refrigerator, the bathroom was disgusting, and there were papers and bills everywhere. Sue was in shock. She sat down on a dirty sofa and turned on the TV only to find that it wasn’t working. When she asked her mom about it, her mom said her sister was talking to the cable company but that it hadn’t worked in over a month. Seeing the state of despair on her mother, Sue broke down crying.
Upset, Sue reached out to her sister. Her sister said that Sue was making a big deal out of nothing, that their mother was being difficult and refused to cooperate with her. Yet, when Sue spoke to her mother, it became clear that she did want help. Something else was happening. After reviewing the below list of senior abuse behaviors, Sue became angry as she realized that her mother was suffering from neglect.
There are many other ways a person can be abused. For seniors, there are eight ways it can manifest through physical, mental, verbal, emotional, financial, sexual, medical, and spiritual. The following list is not inclusive but rather provides an opportunity to explore, evaluate and discuss any potentially destructive behavior.
Physical Abuse. For seniors, the fear of physical abuse is very strong because as they age, the ability to defend themselves is limited.
- Intimidation – Bullying by standing over or looking down and then refusing to back off.
- Isolation – Abandoning or alienating in dangerous situations.
- Restraint – Might tie-up, grab when trying to leave, or lock doors with no key.
- Aggression – Hitting, kicking, punching, arm twisting, pushing, beating, shoving, biting, slapping, striking with an object, shaking, pinching, choking, hair pulling, dragging, burning, cutting, stabbing, strangling, and force-feeding (including overdose or misuse of drugs).
- Endangerment – Verbal threats of killing mixed with physical violence and use of weapons.
Mental Abuse. This is often overlooked as an abusive method. Typically, increased confusion is a normal part of the aging process so this type of abuse can be very intimidating.
- Rage – An intense, furious anger that comes out of nowhere, usually over nothing, startling and shocking a person into compliance or silence.
- Gaslighting – Lying about the past making a person doubt their memory, perception, and sanity. They claim and give evidence of past wrong behavior further causing doubt.
- The Stare – An intense stare with no feeling behind it.
- Silent Treatment – Punish by ignoring.
- Twisting – Getting blamed for the actions of others, especially when the other person is confronted.
- Manipulation – Making a person fear the worst such as abandonment, infidelity, or rejection.
- Victim Card – Uses past victimization as justification for current inactivity.
Verbal Abuse. This type of abuse causes the greatest amount of embarrassment to the elderly. The problem is the abusers often use the hearing loss of a senior as justification for this behavior.
- Extremes in Volume and Tone Voice – Increasing the volume by yelling, screaming, and raging. The second is complete silence, ignoring, and refusing to respond.
- Intimidating Words – Swearing and threatening language.
- Intense Manner of Speech – Argumentative, competitive, sarcastic and demanding. They frequently interrupt, talk over, withhold key information, bully and interrogate.
- Personal Attacks – Common examples include criticizing, name-calling, mocking responses, defaming character, berating feelings, and judging opinions.
- No Apology – They refuse to take responsibility, become hostile, invalidate or dismissive of feelings, lie, and conveniently forget promises or commitments.
- Blame Game – Anything that goes wrong is someone else’s fault. Accuses others of being too sensitive, is overly critical of reactions, one-up feelings and opposing opinions.
- Browbeating – Typical sayings include: “If only you would…, then I won’t have to be this way,” “You don’t know how to take a joke,” “The problem with you is…,” and “That (verbal abuse) didn’t really happen.”
Emotional Abuse. Yet another area of abuse that is frequently overlooked is emotional abuse. This can be difficult to see unless it happens in front of others.
- Nitpicking – Belittling of accomplishments, aspirations, or personality in front of others. Teasing or sarcasm is commonly used to degrade and mock.
- Embarrassment/Shame – They share private information without consent, treat seniors like a child, or expose some shameful event.
- Increased Anxiety – The aging process brings on natural increased anxiety which is used against the senior.
- Excessive Guilt – Blaming the senior for not caring for them or for being selfish.
- Insecurity – Being held to an unrealistic, unattainable or unsustainable standard, then when they fail, they are treated as inferior.
- Alienation – Withholding friends and family from visiting.
- Anger/Fear – Incite the senior to unnecessary anger and/or fear responses so they can be mocked.
- Rejection – Refusing to acknowledge worth by withholding love or creating a threat of rejection.
Financial Abuse. This is one area that can only be seen if another person has access to financial records.
- Forbidden Access – Won’t allow the senior to have access to their money, checking accounts, or possessions which creates a dependency for food, clothing, shelter, and necessities.
- Stealing – Steals, defrauds, or exploits and expects the family to be ok with it.
- Assets – Demands that all financial gifts, assets or inheritances be placed in their name. Open bank accounts in their name without giving access to records.
- Social Security – Forces checks to be handed over and deposited into their account.
- Credit – Maxes out credit cards without the senior’s knowledge and ruins their credit rating.
Sexual Abuse. Perhaps this is one of the saddest ways a senior can be abused. The shame of the act often keeps seniors from reporting incidents.
- Coercion Tactics – Use of harassment, guilt, shame, blame, or rage to coerce others into having sex. They nag, insult, become disruptive, and refuse to allow sleep until they concede.
- Inciting Fear – Seniors submit to unwanted sexual acts out of fear that they will hit, leave, humiliate, punish, betray, or withhold money.
- Selfish Appeals – A classic example of selfish sex is unprotected sex, seniors are a high risk for STD/STIs.
- Destroying Principles – Previous sexual standards are obliterated. For instance, participating in pornography was completely out of the question but now is forced.
- Rape – The FBI defines rape as “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
- Degrading Acts – Degradation is in the eye of the beholder. The abuser will not view these acts as degrading, but seniors might. Here are a couple of examples: urinating on a person, having sex while on the toilet, or forced sex in risky places.
Medical Abuse. Many seniors are on a limited budget and struggle to get to the doctor. Embarrassed by this, many seniors are reluctant to ask for help from others especially when they have received resistance.
- Stealing or lying about medication. Some abusers steal medications from the unsuspecting elderly and use it for themselves. Others lie about giving seniors their medication, taking advantage of their poor memory.
- Withholding medical treatment. Instead of taking a senior to a needed medical appointment or to the ER, abusers will withhold treatment saying that the senior doesn’t need it.
- Neglect. Abusers refuse to take seriously the dangerous living conditions of seniors by not helping them clean, straightening up so they won’t fall, or providing bars, ramps, or other devices to make living easier. They might also not tend to minor injuries leaving them to worsen or become infected.
- Abandonment. Seniors who are not able to care for themselves are left alone for hours, days or months. Often seniors won’t leave the house out of fear and as a result, they become trapped in their own house.
- Gaslighting medical information. Relying on another person to remember what they need, seniors are unfortunately vulnerable to an abuser who lies about what the senior does and doesn’t have medically. Most times, the abuses also lie to family members and siblings by minimizing the condition of the senior.
Spiritual Abuse. The church should be helping to protect the elderly, not alienating them.
- Dichotomous Thinking – Dividing people into two parts. Making fun of, belittling, and showing prejudice towards other beliefs.
- Elitists – Refusing to associate with seniors they consider impure or unholy.
- Submission – Requires that seniors completely adopt their point of view. Name-calling, chastising, and the silent treatment are common maneuvers into compliance.
- Labeling – People who don’t comply with their beliefs are seen as disobedient, rebellious, lacking faith, demons, or enemies of the faith.
- Segregation – Use of secrecy to withhold information to a few select worthy individuals. This can include estrangement, shunning, alienation, or persecution.
- Blind Obedience – Is expected. The abusers have replaced religion with themselves and seniors are expected to worship them.
- Abuse of Authority – Use position or authority to connive for personal financial benefit.
- Fraud – Engaging in criminal misconduct or cover up the transgressions of others in the name of their religion.
Reminder: This list is a starting point to bring about discussion of senior abuse. There are many more ways the elderly can be and are being abused.