Recognizing the Signs of Elder Abuse

Why This Crime, Which Can Lead to Death, Often Goes Unreported

Elder abuse is when harm or distress is caused to an older person through a single or repeated act, or lack thereof, in a relationship where there is supposed to be trust and support.

While there are many types of elder abuse — physical, emotional, financial, fraud, and scams — Santa Barbara’s Senior Deputy District Attorney Vicki Johnson explained, “The kind of abuse that I’m really concerned with is neglect.” Neglect is a form of physical abuse, and it often goes undetected. Johnson notes that there have been several deaths in Santa Barbara in recent years that have resulted from neglect.

“The way it often manifests is in bedsores,” she said. While we often don’t think of bedsores as deadly, if gone untreated, they can go right down into the bone and become septic. However, unlike other forms of physical abuse, situations of neglect rarely get reported. “If somebody punches you in the face and you call the police, it is very obvious and easy to investigate and prosecute,” she explained. “But when somebody is brought into the hospital with a bedsore, on the verge of death, that becomes a lot harder to investigate because nobody has reported it and nobody has gone to the police.”

Vicki Johnson and Ruth Corona of the District Attorney’s Office
Paul Wellman

On top of that, seniors who are neglected are usually experiencing financial abuse simultaneously. “When we see neglect or some kind of physical abuse, and there’s a caretaker or a family member that is supposed to be caring for this person, oftentimes we look a little deeper and find that that same person is siphoning off their money, writing checks in their name, using their bank account, or somehow getting into their savings and checking accounts,” explained Johnson.

It’s important for family members or neighbors to check in on seniors who they suspect may be experiencing elder abuse, because victims rarely report it themselves. “A fear that seniors often have when they’re thinking about whether to report or not is, ‘If I get this person in trouble, who is going to take care of me?’” explained Johnson. Luckily, there are systems in place, such as In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), that can serve as valuable resources for people who experience financial abuse with their primary caretaker.

If you suspect somebody is experiencing elder abuse, you can call APS (Adult Protective Services) at (844) 751-6729.


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