July 4 was a special day. It’s a time when we celebrate freedom and recognize the vast number of liberties which are available to us as Americans. However, for many seniors trapped in a cycle of abuse or exploitation, this freedom is unattainable.

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, “studies have found that at least one in 10 community-dwelling older adults experienced some form of abuse in the prior year.” Similarly, the National Council on Aging estimates “up to 5 million older Americans are abused every year.”

Unfortunately, abuse of seniors often is unreported and unseen. Unlike children, who may have numerous contacts with external individuals, creating potential reporting sources, seniors more often are isolated. This can lead to and conceal abuse or exploitation.

Elder abuse can take on many forms: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, intentional deprivation and financial exploitation.

Physical abuse includes physical acts of harm, such as hitting or burning, against an individual. Sexual abuse includes both forced sexual contact and sexual contact with an individual who lacks mental capacity to consent. Emotional abuse may include intimidation or threats of harm.

Neglect and intentional deprivation both are forms of neglect, although one is passive while the other is an intentional withholding of necessary resources or care. Intentional deprivation often is seen when a caregiver refuses to allow medical treatment or refuses to provide adequate meals to the senior.

Finally, financial exploitation is the act of depriving an individual of his resources when the individual is unable to manage his own resources or care or to adequately protect himself.

The best way to prevent or stop abuse is through awareness of types of abuse and warning signs. Seniors may lose interest in activities or appear overly or unusually anxious, have poor hygiene and unclean clothing or develop unexplained injuries such as cuts, bruises, broken bones, burns or bedsores.

Those suffering from financial exploitation may have unpaid bills, little food and unfilled prescriptions. Victims of exploitation often have unemployed individuals living in their home and using their resources for the sole support of the house guest.

Unfortunately, many seniors suffer from multiple types of abuse, and are often the victims of financial exploitation in addition to physical abuse or neglect.

A common element in elder abuse is social isolation, often even from family members. The more social interaction a senior has, the less likely an abuser would be able to conceal abuse or exploitation.

Loved ones can take steps to protect senior relatives by staying in contact and varying the contact. Especially for seniors with caregivers, family and friends should visit at random times,; call frequently and make sure that the senior knows that you are available and report concerns immediately.

Loved ones with a durable general power of attorney should keep a watchful eye on accounts of vulnerable relatives to ensure accounts are being used primarily for the senior’s care and according to his or her wishes.

Those abusing or exploiting seniors can be held both civilly and criminally liable for their actions. For this to happen, however, loved ones must be willing to take action when abuse or exploitation is suspected. Because Kentucky is a mandatory reporting state, every person who suspects abuse is required by law to report the abuse.

Choose freedom every day for our seniors by fighting back against elder abuse and exploitation. To report suspected elder abuse or exploitation, call the Kentucky hotline at 877-597-2331.

Cynthia Griffin is an elder law and estate planning attorney at Burnett and Griffin PLLC in Elizabethtown. She can be reached at cynthia@bcglawcenter.com.

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