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1 in 10 seniors abused, neglected

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According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, one out of every 10 older Americans is abused or neglected.

Even worse? For every case of elder abuse we know about, an estimated 23 more go unreported. And all too often, the source of the problem hits very close to home.

Dr. Laura Mosqueda is the director of geriatrics at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine. 

"What surprises a lot of people is that the most common abusers are family members, not paid caregivers," says Mosqueda. "Most of the abuse occurs in the home, typically by either a spouse or an adult child. Many of us can never imagine ourselves getting so angry that we would push or hit a loved one, but we can get driven to that point more easily than many of us realize."

Dr. Mosqueda says physical abuse is often born out of the stress and tedium that comes with being a caretaker.

"They might just feel overwhelmed. They have to hold the person down in order to get them cleaned. These things can escalate into really very violent behavior by the person who cares for the older adult," says Mosqueda.

Dr. Mosqueda encourages people to watch out for telltale signs of physical abuse, and to consider the possibility that another family member may be hurting an elderly parent or grandparent.
 
"If they're seeing bruises in unusual locations or even if it's a bruise on a hand or an arm where you often see them," says Mosqueda. "Look for things like frequent falls and ask questions, 'Are you afraid of anybody? Has anybody hurt you?'"

But elder abuse isn't limited to physical injuries. Other forms include sexual abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, neglect and even financial abuse.

As a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, Chayo Reyes has investigated several financial abuse cases.

"Financial abuse tends to be committed by family members or in-home care providers," says Reyes. "Over 70 percent of our nation's wealth is in the hands of elders, because they own their own homes, they have their pensions, investments."

And many times it'll involve a power of attorney that, instead of using the power of attorney in the elder's best interest, they will use that document as a license to steal.

"They'll go through the process of having their name added to the title of the home, added onto bank accounts and gradually start tapping out the estate," says Reyes.

But financial abuse can also be as simple as selling off an older person's possessions.

Reyes says, "There are a number of red flags that people, when they're familiar with the elder, can see that there's questions that come up in regards to, 'Why is Ruth or why is Barb having a yard sale?'"

Whether it's a relative, friend or neighbor, Reyes says if you suspect an elderly person is being abused in any way, get involved.

"My recommendation to people that are concerned for an elder's well being is to immediately report it to Adult Protective Services or to law enforcement," says Reyes. "Protecting our elders, it's serious business. Just like protecting our children. And we've learned that when a caring person has concerns of an elder's well being, that by reporting it, it helps the authorities come in with a proactive approach to either prevent it or to stop the abuse."

If you or someone you know is being abused and need the contact information for Adult Protective Services in your area, try using the eldercare locator. It's a government-sponsored national resource. 

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