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Outright Physical Abuse

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What is Outright Physical Abuse?

Outright physical abuse to an elder is an act that is wrongly intended to cause, and does cause, the elder physical harm, injury, pain, discomfort or other physical suffering. A partial list of acts that can constitute physical abuse follows:

  • Hitting
  • Slapping
  • Kicking
  • Pushing
  • Shoving
  • Pinching
  • Scratching
  • Burning
  • Biting
  • Rape
  • Coerced sexual conduct
  • Over-medicating
  • Under-medicating
  • Depriving of food
  • Depriving of water
  • Inappropriate physical restraint
  • Inappropriate chemical restraint
  • Exposing to severe weather or temperature

Elder physical abuse can also occur when a person who has no intention to injure the elder, acts recklessly with a total disregard for the consequences of his or her act, and the act can reasonably be expected to product the abusive result. It can also occur when a person who has a duty of care for an elder omits to perform an act that they should perform in order to protect the elder from physical harm, with the result that the harm occurs.

Elder physical abuse is a serious problem. Studies show that the incidence of physical abuse occurs more often against women than men, and much more often to elders who are over eighty years old. Often it occurs in families where there has been prior physical abuse, such as child abuse or spousal abuse and/or where there is drug abuse or mental illness. A study of 6,300 substantiated cases of elder abuse (all types) showed that elder abuse is committed most frequently by the following people:

  • Adult children (often in retaliation for prior child abuse) 30.0%
  • Other relatives (siblings, grandchildren, etc.) 17.8%
  • The spouse 14.8%
  • A hired caregiver 12.8%
  • Friends or neighbors 10.0%
  • Others (the balance)

The risk of elder physical abuse by adult children is greatly increased when the child lives at home with the elder parent, and is dependent on the elder parent for financial support. The risk goes up from there if the adult child is over-using alcohol or drugs or has some form of mental illness.

Outright physical abuse can occur in both a home setting, where the elder resides in a private residence (called Domestic Elder Abuse), and in a long-term care facility, such as a nursing home (called Institutional Elder Abuse).

What are signs of Outright Physical Abuse?

How does one know if an elder is the victim of physical abuse? One obvious way is if the elder himself or herself complains of such abuse. Even if the elder is in some state of dementia, complaints of this nature should be taken seriously and investigated.

Some other things that would raise suspicion of elder physical abuse are listed below. This is not an exhaustive list, and it is important to trust one’s instincts in this regard: If one believes that a loved one might be the victim of elder physical abuse, then he or she should look into it. Some signs of outright physical abuse are:

  • Appearance
  • Broken bones
  • Dislocated joints
  • Sprains
  • Bruises (including to breasts)
  • Welts
  • Black eyes
  • Abrasions
  • Cuts
  • Lacerations
  • Punctures
  • Open wounds
  • Cracked lips
  • Traumatic loss of hair or teeth
  • Internal injuries
  • Bleeding (including to genitals or anus)
  • Genital infections or venereal disease
  • Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing or linens
  • Burns
  • Drowsiness, drooling, vacant stare
  • Large weight loss
  • Broken eyeglass frames or lenses
  • Behavior
  • The elder reports of being physically abused
  • Other residents report of physical abuse
  • The elder has trouble sitting or walking
  • The elder does not want to be left alone with a caregiver
  • A caregiver will not let a visitor stay alone with the elder
How does one prevent Elder Physical Abuse?

There are many things a person can do to reduce the likelihood that an elder will be subjected to outright physical abuse. To prevent institutional elder physical abuse, one of the most important things is the selection of a good nursing home in the first place. See Elder Abuse Prevention.

Whether the elder is in a residence or nursing home, whether his or her caregivers are family members or staff members of an institution, perhaps the single best way to prevent an elder’s physical abuse is to make sure the people caring for him or her know that they are being held accountable. And the best way to accomplish this is by making visits to the elder; the more frequent, the better. It has been proven that the elders who are treated best are those who receive the most visits from family members and friends.

Seeking assistance

If you believe that a family member or friend is being subjected to elder physical abuse, and you are not sure how to remedy the situation, call (800) 215-1190 toll free for information or to speak to a legal specialist in the area.

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