World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is June 15th and according to the World Health Organization elder abuse is a violation of human rights and a significant cause of illness, injury, loss of productivity, isolation, and despair. It touches people across all socioeconomic groups, cultures, and races. But only about one in five cases is ever reported. People with dementia are particularly vulnerable because they are unable to recognize that they are being abused or to report it.
My friend’s mother lived in Florida where she had round-the-clock nursing care in her own home. At the end of her life she suffered from dementia and was frail and bed-ridden. When Cheryl (name has been changed) went for a visit, she discovered that her mother had been cruelly beaten, and even though her two caregivers were women, it was apparent there she had been sexually abused. The poor woman’s genital area was swollen and bruised.
Physical abuse is not the only type of abuse targeted at the elderly. I know of two families who lost their inheritance because of financial fraud and theft. In one family the elderly father was cared for by a young woman who convinced him to marry her in order to be the beneficiary of his estate. The man’s family was unable to get a penny or access to the family home they had grown up in. Another elderly man assigned a trustee to overlook his financial affairs. The trustee stole his money and even though one of his adult children is a lawyer, the family was unable to recover a penny of their inheritance.
We’ve all heard of telephone scams in which a caller claims he is a jailed grandson who pleads with his grandparents to send bail money, or the IRS scam where the caller threatens severe consequences if the senior doesn’t pay tardy taxes.
These types of occurrences are all too common, especially in under staffed, under funded nursing homes.
Abuse can occur anywhere: at home, in nursing homes, and memory care homes. If you suspect abuse don’t hesitate to report it. You do not have to prove anything. It is up to the professional staff to investigate your suspicions, and put the proper safety measures in place.
Types of abuse
- Physical–causing pain or injury
- Neglect–failure to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical and other necessities required to provide a safe, nurturing environment
- Emotional and Psychological—Verbal assaults, harassment, threats, intimidation
- Confinement –restraining or isolating the person
- Financial—Scams, misuse or withholding of the person’s financial resources to the disadvantage of the elderly person, and to the advantage of another person.
- Deprivation—Denying the person medication, medical care, food, shelter or physical assistance
- Sexual abuse –Any sexual activity, including fondling, when the person is unable to understand, unwilling to consent, or threatened or physically forced
Signs of abuse
- Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions and burns
- Bruises around the breasts and genital area could indicate sexual abuse
- Poor hygiene, bed sores, unattended medical needs, unusual weight loss
- Sudden withdrawal from normal activities, unexpected depression, and a sudden change in alertness can be an indicator of emotional abuse. However, these symptoms can be the result of a progression of dementia or other disease.
- Sudden changes in financial situation can be a result of exploitation.
- Aggressive behavior from a caregiver or from the person being cared for can result in verbal or emotional abuse on either end.
Caregivers also are the recipients of abuse from the person they care for. If a caregiver feels physically threatened it’s important to get help in providing safe care for the person being cared for, possibly in a facility.
What can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones?
Report suspected mistreatment to your community’s Human Services Adult Protection agency and/or law enforcement office. Even if a situation has already been investigated, if you believe circumstances are getting worse, continue to speak out.
If you or others experience abuse or neglect in a community setting:
Adult Protective Services (APS) is there to help. The APS mission is to ensure the safety and well-being of elders and dependent adults. Unfortunately, it is estimated that millions of U.S. elders, from all walks of life, face abuse and neglect every year. Anyone can be victimized. However, there are things you can do to help protect yourself from abuse and neglect…
Human Services provides help with:
- In-home assessment for abuse, neglect, and/or exploitation
- Crisis intervention
- Monthly visits by a case worker, if risk continues
- Assistance with housing and/or placement to alternative housing
- Assistance with obtaining benefits
- Money management
- To report suspected abuse in a nursing home or long-term care facility, contact your local Long-Term Care Ombudsman. Each licensed long-term care facility is required to display a poster with the facility’s assigned ombudsman’s name and contact information. If you are a resident or family member of a resident in a facility, call the ombudsman listed on the poster. To learn more about the ombudsman program visit: Long-term care ombudsmen are advocates for residents of nursing homes, board and care homes and assisted living facilities. http://www.ltcombudsman.org
- Caregivers (both family and professionals) are most often the abusers of the elderly. Stress and feelings of being overwhelmed may provoke unintentional belligerent feelings. If you feel overwhelmed or frustrated as a caregiver, talk to someone for support.
- To speak with an Alzheimer’s Association Care Consultant call: 1-800-272-3900
- To find a support group in your area visit http://www.alz.org/apps/findus.asp
- To receive support from other caregivers visit https://www.alzconnected.org/
- To report an incident or concern of abuse or neglect, call the Alzheimer’s Association (1.800.272.3900) or Eldercare Locator (1.800.677.1116). You’ll be connected to your state or local adult protective services division or to a long-term care ombudsman. You do not need to prove that abuse is occurring — it is up to the professionals to investigate suspicions.
- Read more: http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-elder-abuse.asp#ixzz2W9DhCbSL
- Keep in contact. Talk with your older friends, neighbors, and relatives. Maintaining communication will help decrease isolation, a risk factor for mistreatment. It will also provide a chance to talk about any problems they may be experiencing.
- Join Ageless Alliance, a national, non-profit grassroots organization working to to promote aging with dignity and eliminate elder abuse, neglect and exploitation through Awareness, Advocacy and Action. Based at the Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect at the University of California, Irvine, Ageless Alliance is a grassroots campaign to give a voice to those who have been affected by elder abuse and abuse of adults with disabilities.
- Plan ahead to protect against financial exploitation. Download a handout on ways to protect yourself or a loved one. http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/Resources/Publication/docs/NCEA_ProtectYourself_web508.pdf
- Be aware of the possibility of abuse. Look around and take note of what may be happening with your older neighbors and acquaintances. Do they seem lately to be withdrawn, nervous, fearful, sad, or anxious, especially around certain people, when they have not seemed so in the past?
- Contact your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) office to identify local programs and sources of support, such as Meals on Wheels. These programs help elders to maintain health, well-being, and independence—a good defense against abuse. See the Eldercare Locator, www.eldercare.gov Welcome to the Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging connecting you to services for older adults and their families.You can also reach us at 1-800-677-1116.