It’s something no one wants to see happen — abuse of their older loved one. Yet millions of older adults face abuse every year from family members, friends or trusted caregivers.

Oftentimes, signs of elder abuse can be hard to spot. Besides physical harm, older adults can be subject to other forms of abuse, including neglect, financial exploitation or emotional abuse. Such abuse can lead to damaging psychological and physical consequences.

To help protect your friends and loved ones from these harms, review the signs of abuse and the steps you can take to ensure your loved ones stay safe as they age.

Warning signs of elder abuse

A 2015 review from “New England Journal of Medicine” reported elder abuse in 10 percent of cases it studied. However, abuse often goes unreported, so the true number of elder abuse cases is difficult to quantify.

Caregivers and family members are often unaware of the warning signs of abuse. Usually, an abuser has a close relationship to the older adult, which makes it difficult for outside visitors to suspect mistreatment. Likewise, older adults can be afraid to speak out about abuses for face for fear of retaliation or because they don’t want their abuser to face consequences.

Take note of any of the following signs of different types of abuse:

  • Visual evidence of physical harm

  • Personality changes, such as becoming withdrawn or easily frightened

  • A tense relationship between the older adult and their caregiver

  • A situation in which the caregiver refuses to let you see your loved one alone

  • Missing cash or unexpected credit card transactions

What you can do to stop abuse

The good news is that you can do plenty to help protect your older loved ones. If you educate yourself on the warning signs, you are one step closer to preventing your loved one from suffering from abuse. In general, trust your gut. If something seems off, there is likely an underlying reason.

While it may be a scary or awkward situation, especially if you suspect abuse from a close friend or family member, it is important that you speak up to prevent further harm to your loved one. Remember, it is not your responsibility to prove that abuse is occurring — it is an investigator’s job to do that — but if you suspect abuse, you must report it.

If you suspect abuse, you can seek help from either a trusted friend, family member, healthcare provider or law enforcement.There are also professional resources in Illinois you can turn to for further guidance.

Local resources to turn to

If you believe that they are in immediate danger, call 911. If you don’t think they are at risk for immediate harm, but still suspect abuse, contact Adult Protective Services (APS). Their 24-hour hotline in Illinois is (866) 800-1409. The Adult Protective Services Act says that those who report suspected abuse in good faith are immune from civil or criminal liability. You can also report anonymously if you choose.

When reporting abuse to APS, be prepared to give details about your loved one, the alleged abuser and the circumstances that led you to suspect abuse. APS will want to speak to the older adult as well.

In Illinois, you can also notify your local Long-term Care Ombudsman. This program is mandated by law to protect and improve the quality of life of long-term care residents. This list breaks down which Long-term Care Ombudsman is closest to you based on your county. To find other resources specific to your location, take a look at The Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, which can connect you to services near you for older adults.

Learn more at Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services

If you are interested in learning more about what elder abuse is and how to prevent it, attend Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services’ event on elder abuse Tuesday, July 12 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Covenant Home of Chicago. With a presentation by Josh Mitzen, director of Advocacy Services, LLC and Advocacy Guardianship Services, you will learn about topics such as how agencies can and cannot help in cases of abuse, as well as more information on individual rights and how to determine who has legal authority to step in. You can RSVP by calling (773) 596-2296 or e-mailing mullin@cmsschicago.org.