Protective Services/Elder Abuse
Elder abuse can present itself in various forms - physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, financial exploitation, caregiver neglect and self neglect. Each year hundreds of thousands of older persons are abused, neglected and exploited by family members and others. Many victims are people who are frail and vulnerable; who cannot help themselves; and who depend on others to meet their most basic needs.
Open Your Eyes to the Issue
- As many as 1 in 20 older adults are victims of abuse. An older person can be the victim of physical abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or other mistreatment.
- Many times the victim is female, over age 75 and dependent on a spouse, relative or friend to provide care, food, and shelter. The abuser is likely to be a spouse or adult child who lives in the same house and is responsible for providing care to the older person.
Abuse may occur when a caregiver fails to meet the needs of the older person or when older people fail to take care of themselves.
- Elder abuse happens everywhere across the country, across the state and across the street, but you can do something about it. You learn how to identify abuse, report it and prevent it. First, though, you must open your eyes to the issue.
Remember: abuse is never acceptable.
Unlike child abuse, elder abuse is not always easy to identify. It can often be hidden or disguised as:
- Bruises and broken bones may be blamed on falls when the real cause is punching or beating.
- Weight loss may be blamed on illness or lack of appetite when the real cause is starvation or neglect.
- Dementia may be blamed on "old age" when the real cause is drug misuse or malnutrition.
Besides physical signs, there are other clues that may indicate elder abuse, such as:
- A neighbor may notice that the older person next door never goes outside or never sees visitors.
- A bank teller may find that an older customer or someone claiming to represent the older person is withdrawing large sums from savings account without apparent reason.
- An attorney might question why an older person would sign over his or her home to a relative
If you suspect mistreatment of an older person, you should report it to your local Area Agency on Aging. Even if you are not positive abuse has actually occurred, but you have a reason to be concerned about the older person's well being, you should call.
The protective Services Act mandates the any of the following facilities must report suspected cases of abuse to the local Area Agency on Aging. Those facilities include:
- Nursing Homes
- Personal Care Homes
- Domiciliary Care Homes
- Adult Daily Living Center
- Home Health Agencies
Unfortunately, many people don't want to get involved when they suspect elder abuse is occurring. Others, including the victim, are afraid of the abuser. The tragic result is that many cases of suspected elder abuse go unreported and the abuse continues.
What Happens After I Call?
When you call the Area Agency on Aging to report a suspected case of elder abuse, a specially trained staff person will investigate the report. The staff person will telephone or visit the older person. If abuse has occurred, steps will be taken to protect the victim, stop the abuse and prevent it from occurring again. If you report a suspected case of elder abuse, your name will not be revealed.
The Area Agency on Aging may offer temporary shelter if the victim is in physical danger. Other protective services include medical care, daytime or overnight care, in home services, home delivered meals, transportation, counseling, financial or legal advice. The types of services depends on the abused person's immediate needs.
If abuse has not occurred but the older person or family appears to need assistance, the staff person may refer the family to other services through the Area Agency on Aging.
Family members and close friends are not the only ones in position to recognize when an older person is at risk of neglect or abuse. For example, if the family members caring for the older person has a history of violence, drug or alcohol abuse, or is unemployed or financially unstable, the risk of abuse is greater.
Many adult children accept the responsibility to care for an older parent or relative without knowing how much time or money will be needed.
If you are faced with the decision of caring for an older family member, be sure to examine your own ability to handle the responsibility as well as the impact on other family members.
- Be honest about what you can do
- Know your financial resources and what it will cost to care for the person
- Seek outside help and support groups
- Look at your home. Can an older or handicapped person move around easily?
- Know the medical needs of the person you'll be caring for
- Find out if other family members will lend a hand from time to time