Tens of thousands of elder abuse cases are reported in Texas each year. Tens of thousands.

Adult Protective Services released that in 2012, 87,487 investigations of elder abuse were conducted during the fiscal year. Of those initial reports, 59,595 were validated.

As someone who's hoping to grow old eventually and someone who has elderly loved ones, this statistic absolutely horrifies me. But what can be done?

First, it's important to establish what constitutes elder abuse and what penalties an abuser can face in Texas:

Elder abuse can be defined as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.”

Elder abuse can be physical abuse, neglect, and financial abuse. For example, striking an elderly person, allowing them to develop bedsores or manipulating them into giving away their money are all forms of abuse. There are other forms as well. Elder abuse can also be psychological, and as much as I hate to type this, sexual. I hate that so very much.

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Failing to report known elder abuse is a Class B Misdemeanor in Texas. Elder abuse itself is often a felony, especially if it results in grievous injury or death.

What can be done?

We have an excellent opportunity to check on our elderly neighbors, relatives and friends as more seniors get vaccinated and feel safe venturing out of their homes or other living situations. Ask your neighbor how they're doing and look for these signs:

Unusual, reoccurring, or unexplainable injuries of any kind. Some seniors have delicate skin, and some have memory issues, so this isn't to say all injuries are always abuse. That's why it's important to pay attention to your elderly friend or relative consistently.

Torn clothing; new STDs; bruising around private parts or on the sides of the body. Again, this makes my heart absolutely sick.

Acting depressed and withdrawn; marked changes in behavior; rocking back and forth and other coping motions; confusion; inability to sleep. 

Unexplainable withdraws from accounts; missing financial statements; unpaid bills; a new "friend" who may be taking advantage of them. 

Messy, soiled clothing; sores; broken devices like glasses or dentures; loss of weight.

If you suspect your elderly friend or family member is being abused, here's what to do:

First, try talking privately with the person you suspect is in trouble. You can start by saying you think something is wrong and you want to help. If they won't answer your questions, it’s possible that they are being abused. If they tell you someone’s hurting them or you suspect they are in immediate danger, call 911.

If the problem isn’t urgent, contact Adult Protective Services in the state where they live. You don’t need proof of the abuse to make the call. The agency will send someone to the person's home to check out the report and, if necessary, take steps to make sure they are safe.

There is also an "Elder Care Locator" that you can call at 1-800-677-1116. 

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