Elderly parents don’t need to live very far away to be out of reach. Living only a few hours by car or in a neighboring state might as well be living in different country. Regardless of how close or how far away they live from you, an uncomfortable aspect to consider is how to protect them from abuse.

Elder abuse is far more common than most people realize. According to the National Center for Elder Abuse, millions of seniors from all walks of life are abused every year.

Elder abuse is defined as the mistreatment or harming of an older person. It can include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, as well as neglect and financial exploitation. It can take the form of bruises, welts, untreated bed sores, dehydration, poor living conditions, and even sexually transmitted diseases without any clear explanations. Emotional and behavioral signs of abuse include excessive fear and anxiety, depression, isolation and general unresponsiveness. Financial abuse can result in unpaid bills, fraudulent signatures, and sudden changes in the estate plan.

There are things you can do, even when you live out of state to protect your parents.

Building a strong support system is probably the best protection available. As the old saying goes: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If friends or family live nearby, have them check in with your elderly parent on a regular, or semi-regular basis. Keep in touch as much as you can. Establish daily communication routines so that you are better equipped to identify a crisis should it happen.

Take advantage of community resources. There’s a surprising range of services available to seniors. Establishing relationships with people who work in community facilities that offer senior activities can be a great value. Senior centers and community-focused groups are a great place to start. If you need help getting started on your research, groups like the AARP offer a place for you to identify options that may be a good fit for your parents. Further, the U.S. Administration on Aging offers a comprehensive Eldercare Locator that can help you find elder services anywhere in the country, and most of them are free.

Above all, remember that you know your parents best. If you suspect something is amiss, ask them. If you need more help, report any signs of suspected abuse immediately. Older adults often fear retaliation from their abusers and may lack the wherewithal to take appropriate actions. If you have questions on this or any Florida elder care law planning issue, do not wait to contact our office.