World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is June 15. 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.
This year during the coronavirus lockdown, there have been massive increases in reports of elder abuse ranging from financial scams to incidents of family violence.
The most vulnerable
Aging adults are highly susceptible to the deadly effects of COVID-19. Just knowing this, amps up anxiety levels and depressive symptoms in aging adults who might be isolated, lonely, and alienated from their families. Isolation and loneliness make the elderly even more vulnerable to scams, and to abuse by caregivers, neighbors, family and financial advisors.
Adults with mental disabilities and/or dementia who live in care facilities are exclusively cared for by staff who may not be in communication with family members. Family members have been restricted from entering the facilities in order to manage the spread of the virus. Consequently, family members are unable to see first-hand whether their loved one is being well cared for.
A news story recently reported that a son was shocked to learn that his father was severely dehydrated, hadn’t eaten for days, and was left in a dirty diaper for more than a couple days. The response he got from the facility was that they were short of staff because so many people were out sick.
Also, people who have diminished eye sight or hearing, or are confined to a wheel chair are vulnerable. My friend’s father who has macular degeneration and is hearing impaired was scammed out of thousands of dollars by a caller who claimed that she was his niece. She said that she was being held in jail and needed bond money. This type of family emergency scam has been going on for years via telephone calls.
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, underfunded nursing homes.
Verify an emergency
If someone calls or sends a message claiming to be a family member or a friend desperate for money:
- Resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story is.
- Verify the person’s identity by asking questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer.
- Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine.
- Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
- Don’t wire money — or send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier.
- Report possible fraud at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.
- Report COVID-19 related scams to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (1-866-720-5721)
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.
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.
If you suspect abuse, call the police or 911 immediately if you someone you know is in immediate or threatening danger.
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:
Report suspected abuse or exploitation to the local Adult Protective Services or Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program .
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 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.
Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Boulder Book Store, Tattered Cover Book Store, Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.