According to the Michigan State Police, there are all types of vulnerable abuse on those who cannot help themselves. Vulnerable adult abuse is described as "a condition in which an adult is unable to protect himself of herself from abuse, neglect or exploitation because of a mental or physical impairment or because of advanced age." When older adults become victims inside or outside the family, the situation is no longer a private affair.
Vulnerable adult abuse can come in the form of physical, physchological or financial actions. Some families may or may not be aware that the manner of interaction or persuasion used with the elderly can be interpreted as abuse. The key is to keep control of those things that may harm the family member without using force, intimidation or unnecessary manipulation.
Many times, the person who is failing feels helpless with no option except to suffer because of fear of losing family ties, of displeasing those that are in control or of having to go to a nursing facility. It is a red flag, if an elder person is unusually stressed out and seems afraid of certain persons or verbally states dislike for someone, Note as suspect and watch these incidents.
Signs of physical abuse are the easiest to note and to report. Elder people tend to bruise easily and some on a blood thinner can be the most likely to bleed easily at the slightest scrape. However, bruises should be questioned, noted and watched by health care providers and others who come in contact with that person. Ask the elder questions about how it happened, watch for signs of stress, hesitation in answering, unlikely stories, or uncomfortable silence.
When bathing a person or in the case of an examination by a health care worker, watch for bruises in inappropriate places, such as breasts, genital areas. If the health care provider finds unexplained venereal disease or genital infection, it should be reported. All of the above in this paragraph should be reported as suspect for investigation of sexual abuse.
Other signs to watch for are:
- shows signs of being drugged
- having been subjected to physical restraints not consistent with a care plan,
- or is being restrained from visitors or being allowed to be alone with others.
Neglect for personal care
Cases where an adult is not being kept clean, is underdressed for weather conditions, or is losing weight due to malnutrition should be quickly reported for investigation. While is is true that the adult has the right to refuse baths and options of dress, cases of threat to safety and health should be reported, so that social workers or other professionals can make that judgement.
Signs of emotional abuse
In all cases of abuse, it is likely that an older person may be abused emotionally, however, symptoms of dementia or other health issues can show the same signs. Health care professionals will have a care plan for any mental or physical disease that can produce emotional symptoms.
If disease is ruled out of symptoms, a professional caregiver, health care persons or other family members should watch for unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, depression, or unwarranted fear. It's a red flag if the professional care provider is told not to ask personal questions at any time. According to the Michigan State Police, signs may include "rocking, biting, sucking or other unusual physical symptoms."
Signs of financial exploitation
Other family members or close persons may note the following which may be actions of acqaintances within or outside the family circle.
A vulnerable adult may suddenly be without money for necessities.
A suspicious choice for "financial advisor" may be appointed as a legal guardian or power of attorney by the elder adult.
A suspicious person may be writing checks for unusual items on behalf of the elder person.
A bank representative may notice unusual expenditures and activity by the vulnerable adult.
Another family member or the elder adult may themselves notice unauthorized withdrawals on ATM cards or unusual added items on credit cards,
Michigan State Police ask that we all need to be vigilent to protect our vulnerable population.
Be a hero and fight for people who cannot fight for themselves. In Michigan, call to report at 1-800-996-6228 to contact the nearest Adult Protection Services.