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Important facts about elder abuse everyone should know

It's said that a nation can be judged by how it treats its weakest members -- which is why elder abuse is considered a national tragedy.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of things people don't know about elder abuse in nursing homes. That's often what allows it to go unnoticed and unchecked.

If you have a loved one who is getting on in years, this is what you should know:

Physical abuse isn't always readily visible

The signs of physical abuse aren't necessarily something that you will notice right away -- abusers aren't stupid. They know what they're doing is wrong and criminal. They often find ways to hide their abuse for a long time by injuring a senior in places that aren't visible.

In addition, many symptoms of elder abuse are routinely dismissed as signs of aging. Bruises are thought to be from random bumps into furniture and broken wrists or fingers get blamed on age-related falls.

Sometimes abuse even turns sexual, because abuse is about having power and control over someone weaker than the abuser. Sexual abuse may not be visible at all, unless the senior comes down with a urinary tract infection -- which is also often blamed on age and poor health.

Seniors may not tell you they're being abused

Seniors often stay silent about physical, emotional or financial abuse -- usually out of fear of retribution by their abuser.

Again, abusers know they have power over their victims. Many will threaten their victims with worse treatment if they raise any suspicions with relatives or senior staff members at their nursing homes.

In other cases, the senior may mentally retreat from the abuse -- and his or her symptoms can be easily dismissed as depression or even dementia. In patients that actually have dementia, their condition may worsen. Some of them may talk about abuse but their talk will be disregarded as imaginings.

The best way that you can guard your loved ones against abuse is to be alert to anything that seems strange or "off" and to question the reason behind sudden changes in their demeanor. Any hesitancy, fearfulness or sudden change in eating and sleeping habits should be a cause for concern.

If you suspect nursing home abuse, don't take no for an answer -- demand a medical evaluation outside the nursing home and a full investigation.

Source: Forbes, "6 Myths About Elder Abuse," Emily Gurnon, accessed Feb. 16, 2018

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