Elder Abuse Prevention is a Collective Responsibility

Advice on Aging
By Toni Lynn Davis, MHA, CNHA, FACHCA
CEO and President Green Hill Inc.

Elder abuse is not often spoken of and cases of elder abuse not easily identified by the general public. This may be due to the fact that elders, who may find themselves victims of elder abuse, are more often isolated in their homes and not in public settings.  Many elders depend on caregivers to survive and are powerless to control their own lives.

Hundreds of thousands of elders are victims of elder abuse each year as noted on the Administration On Aging website. The term elder abuse is identified on the site as referring to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver. or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. Elder abuse acts range from verbal and emotional abuse, to physical and sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment or exploitation.  Legislation identifying elder abuse is defined by each state, as is the legislation to protect its vulnerable elder citizens from that abuse.

The federal Administration On Aging defined elder abuse as:
•  Physical Abuse—inflicting physical pain or injury on a senior, e.g. slapping, bruising, or restraining by physical or chemical means.
• Sexual Abuse—non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
• Neglect—the failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder.
• Exploitation—the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit.
• Emotional Abuse—inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts, e.g. humiliating, intimidating, or threatening.
• Abandonment—desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.

http://www.aoa.gov/AoA_programs/elder_rights/EA_prevention/whatisEA.aspx

Preventing elder abuse requires vigilance by the whole community. Keep close watch on elders in your life and in your community. Look for signs such as change in behavior, or financial abilities, extreme weight loss or hunger, marks or bruises on an elder’s body, poor hygiene, and fear or tension when interacting.  Be mindful of “close” companions who may have ulterior motives for being helpful to an elder. Alert authorities if you suspect an elder of being abused. Call 911 immediately, give the elder’s name and address, or describe the location and description of the elder abuse incident you may have witnessed. If the danger is not immediate you may contact Adult Protective Services in New Jersey at 877-582-6996. To learn more about elder abuse visit the National Center on Elder Abuse at http://ncea.aoa.gov or visit http://www.aoa.gov/AoA_programs/Elder_Rights/EA_Prevention/WhatToDo.aspx

The most prevalent of all abuse we see as long-term caregivers is financial. That is where family or caregivers use the elder’s money for items not related to their care such as, gifting children or grandchildren, paying for a home, or car. We have seen family members who take their elder’s social security checks and use them to pay their own personal expenses. We have also experienced unrelated caregivers who have befriended the elder and created intimate relationships and then ask for money, or simply take the elder’s money. Often elders in this situation won’t report the request or theft of funds or valuables because they don’t want to lose the help they are receiving.  Take the time to learn about those who are helping your family member, even if it is a family member. When hiring caregivers for your elder, be aware of how the relationship between the two develops. Know the details of your elder’s finances and track how they are spending their money. Talk to your elder often so that you can make sure your loved one is not being taken advantage of whether in the home or in their community.