Silent suffering: You can help prevent elder abuse

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 2/17/22

REGION — Not every senior has a close relationship with their family. Not every senior has friends or relatives close by, keeping an eye on them. And in this age of COVID-19, it can be hard to …

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Silent suffering: You can help prevent elder abuse

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REGION — Not every senior has a close relationship with their family. Not every senior has friends or relatives close by, keeping an eye on them. And in this age of COVID-19, it can be hard to find a bed in a nearby facility, making it difficult to ensure that your loved one is getting good care.

Sometimes caregivers—whether a stranger or someone close—aren’t as trustworthy as we think.

There are 54.1 million people over 65 in the United States. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) estimates that 10 percent of people over 60 are victims of elder abuse, and that only one in 24 cases are reported to the police.

It’s easy to assume that strangers are the ones abusing our elderly, but it’s just as likely to be family members. The NCOA reports that in “almost 60 percent of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member. Two-thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses.”

Staff in a nursing home or care facility can be guilty of elder abuse too.

Types of elder abuse

Physical abuse means inflicting physical pain or injury on an elder, according to a list on the NCOA website. Emotional abuse includes verbal assaults, threats or intimidation. Sexual abuse is touching or any sexual activity with an older adult, when the victim is “unable to understand, unwilling to consent, threatened” or physically forced to participate.

Confinement is restraining an elder for non-medical reasons.

Neglect is the failure to provide the elder with necessities like food, clothing, shelter or medical care. Deprivation means refusing to give the elder all the previous needs, plus therapeutic devices or other assistance, unless that elder—assuming he or she is competent—chose to forego them.

Financial abuse, says the NCOA, “means the misuse or withholding of an older adult’s resources” by another person.

Who is vulnerable?

First, the cognitively impaired. Health Affairs reported that in a study of elders who had been sexually abused, 60 percent had some form of dementia.

Other elders at high risk are socially isolated elders, people in poor health, people who have trouble caring for themselves (making them dependent on another person for day-to-day existence), and those with psychiatric diagnoses, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA).

Elders who are on narcotics or a multitude of medications are also vulnerable. So are those with addiction to alcohol or recreational drugs.

What are the signs?

You might see that decisions are being made about an elder that are not in that person’s best interest, says the NCEA. Maybe there are sudden changes in the elder’s behavior.

Perhaps you see changes in spending or the way their money is managed. Maybe their home has become unhealthy or unsafe.

Medically, there could be unexplained injuries or sexually transmitted diseases.

Can it be prevented?

Start with listening, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If the elder can speak, don’t just tune out long complaints; there might be important information there and the elder is struggling to—or is afraid to—communicate it.

Get educated. Learn the signs of abuse, and learn how to distinguish them from normal aging.

Check in with older friends and neighbors. Don’t assume all is well if you don’t hear from them, even if they have caregivers.

States have ombudsmen who can enter nursing homes and check on family members if the relatives are unable to do so, or if there are no relatives.

Keep in mind: Abusers of the elderly are sometimes simply overwhelmed caregivers. If you know someone who is caring for others, check in on them too. There are relief agencies available to help, there are adult day care centers and respite services; there is counseling. If the elder is in hospice, see if the hospice offers support for caregivers.

And if the caregiver has a problem with drugs or alcohol, encourage and assist them in getting help.

Take the next step

In Pennsylvania, report elder abuse to the state’s 24-hour abuse hotline at 800/490-8505.

For stressed caregivers or if you have questions:

In Pike County, call the Pike County Area Agency on Aging at 570/296-7613.

In Wayne County, call the Wayne County Area Agency on Aging at 570/253-4262.

In Sullivan County, NY, start with the Division of Health and Family Services; call 845/292-0100.

Abusive situations can be reported to Adult Protective Services by email at APS_Intake@sullivanny.us or by phone at 845/513-2390.

Stressed caregivers can call the county’s Office for the Aging at 845/807-0241.

Learn more:

The National Center on Elder Abuse: https://ncea.acl.gov/What-We-Do/Research/Statistics-and-Data.aspx.

The National Council on Aging: https://www.ncoa.org/.

The Centers for Disease Control: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/elderabuse/fastfact.html.

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