Difficult as it is to imagine, it is estimated as many as two million elderly people suffer some form of abuse or neglect. Elder abuse can happen in any venue – at home, a nursing home, an assisted living home. And senior abuse, also known as elder abuse, can take many forms. It can be dealt out by family members, caregivers, visitors, or anyone vicious enough to fail to respect the rights and dignity of our senior citizens.
Hundreds of thousands of our senior citizens experience some form of neglect, exploitation or abuse. Abuse can be physical abuse which would include actually causing pain or injury. Commonly this is by hitting, kicking, slapping, physically restraining, and other means involving force.
The abused are typically, weak and frail, vulnerable and cannot care for themselves. The abuse is often a matter related to their most basic needs. The persons doing the abuses are often those who would be thought of as trusted people including men and women, old and young, friends and family members. The term elder or senior abuse is an intentional act of harm or neglect which causes harm or puts an elder at risk of harm or death.
Each state has some form of legal protective legislation to protect elder persons from abuse. Generally speaking elder or senior abuse can be defined as the following:
Physical Abuse which would include any type of physical pain or injury caused by restraint or physically striking a person whether that is by slapping, kicking, punching or other physical means of striking a person with or without a weapon. Abuse can also include hot water, cold water or chemicals used to harm a person.
Abandonment whether for short periods of time or for long periods of time is a form of elder abuse. When a senior who depends on another person to care for them is subject to desertion by the care giver, is a form of abuse. It can cause both emotional and physical harm.
Emotional Abuse is the result of inflicting emotional harm, mental pain, mental anguish and distress upon a senior citizen or elderly person. There are many kinds of emotional abuse techniques that persons use to harm an elderly person. They are typically verbal and nonverbal means. They can also include creating isolation and ignoring a person. Threats, intimidation and humiliation of any kind are a common type of abuse of the elderly.
Neglect is a form of elder abuse which occurs when the person or persons responsible for any aspect of care of an elder – providing food, providing shelter, providing health care, providing safekeeping or general emotional well-being fails to provide that for an elderly person.
Sexual Abuse is a very unpleasant type of abuse to consider when talking about our senior citizens and the elderly. But any type of non-consensual act of sex toward an elderly person is a serious type of abuse. It can include any type of sexual contact.
Exploitation of a senior citizen is any type of fraud or legal scam which involved the illegal misappropriation of funds, the misuse of funds or property or the withholding and/or concealment of property, funds, securities or assets of a senior citizen for the benefit of another person of group of persons. Sadly exploitation is not just caused by strangers. It can also be inflicted by friends, care givers or family members.
Recognizing Elder Abuse
Many seniors are private and do not have a great number of contacts beyond family and caregivers or medical professionals. Since seniors tend to be more private, casual visitors may not see the signs of elder abuse unless they are aware it can occur and looking. Often the simple embarrassment of being in the position of an abused elder can prevent someone from coming forth about it. Some of the obvious signs are:
- Unexplained bruises, bumps, cuts, scrapes, burns, and other signs of physical injury. This may be a sign of physical abuse or neglect to assist the elder in activities that require assistance.
- Lack of personal hygiene or living space cleanliness, whether at home or in a care facility.
- Missing medication or not providing medication.
- Unexplained fluctuations in weight may be a symptom of malnutrition.
- Missing possessions.
- Negative attitude toward caregiver, or vise-versa.
What can you do about elder care abuse, if you suspect it is occurring? By all means do not ignore it. You can take action by questioning the situation. You can contact an attorney and ask questions such as the following:
- What do I do if I suspect abuse is happening?
- If I am unable to care for my parent or relative what are the options with other care arrangements and how do I find out if those options are safe?
- If you know someone who you suspect is abused but they are not a person you are responsible for, what should you do?
- Are there government departments which can look into allegations of abuse?
- Is there government assistance and/or aid to help get a senior out of a situation where they may be being abused?
- Is it necessary to obtain a power of attorney or guardianship to make decisions for an elderly person who may be subject to elder abuse?
Who Do I Call If I Suspect Abuse?
If someone is in immediate danger, call 911 or the local police for immediate help. If the danger is not immediate, but you suspect that abuse has occurred or is occurring, please tell someone. To report elder abuse, contact the Adult Protective Services (APS) agency in the state where the elder resides. You can find the APS reporting number for each state by:
- Visiting the “Hotline” section of the National Center on Elder Abuse website
- Visiting the Eldercare Locator website or calling 1-800-677-1116.
If you have been the victim of abuse, exploitation, or neglect, you are not alone. Many people care and can help. Please tell your doctor, a friend, or a family member you trust, or call the Eldercare Locator help line immediately. You can reach the Eldercare Locator by telephone at 1-800-677-1116. Specially trained operators will refer you to a local agency that can help. The Eldercare Locator is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time. If you suspect nursing home abuse, call your Long Term Care Ombudsman.
What Should I Expect When I Call Someone for Help?
When making the call, be ready to give the elder’s name, address, contact information, and details about why you are concerned. You may be asked a series of questions to gain more insight into the nature of the situation. For example:
- Are there any known medical problems (including confusion or memory loss)?
- What kinds of family or social supports are there?
- Have you seen or heard incidents of yelling, hitting, or other abusive behavior?
You might also be asked for your name, address, telephone number, etc., but most states will take the report even if you do not identify yourself.
What Happens After I Report My Suspicions?
The APS agency screens calls for potential seriousness, and it keeps the information it receives confidential. If the agency decides the situation possibly violates state elder abuse laws, it assigns a caseworker to conduct an investigation (in cases of an emergency, usually within 24 hours). If the victim needs crisis intervention, services are available. If elder abuse is not substantiated, most APS agencies will work as necessary with other community agencies to obtain any social and health services that the older person needs.
APS agencies provide social services to insure the safety and well-being of elders and adults with disabilities who are in danger of being mistreated or neglected, are unable to take care of themselves or protect themselves from harm, and have no one to assist them. Interventions provided by APS include, but are not limited to:
- Receiving reports of adult abuse, exploitation or neglect
- Investigating these reports
- Case planning, monitoring and evaluation
- Assistance arranging for medical, social, economic, legal, housing, law enforcement or other protective, emergency, or supportive services.
It’s important to remember that the older person has the right to refuse services offered by APS. The APS agency provides service only if the senior agrees or has been declared incapacitated by the court and a guardian has been appointed. The APS agency only takes such action as a last resort.
Who Responds to Reports of Elder Abuse, Neglect, or Exploitation?
Although Adult Protective Services is generally the “first responder” to reports of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation, many other agencies and nonprofit organizations work actively to protect vulnerable elders.
Adult Protective Services APS is the principal public agency responsible both for investigating reported cases of elder and vulnerable adult abuse and for providing victims with treatment and protective services. Usually, the Adult Protective Services Unit, Area Agency on Aging, or County Department of Social Services is designated as the agency to receive and investigate allegations of elder abuse and neglect. If the investigators find abuse or neglect, they arrange for services to help protect the victim.
Law Enforcement Local police, sheriffs, and prosecuting attorneys may investigate and prosecute abuse, particularly in cases involving sexual abuse or assault. In states whose statutes make elder abuse a crime, there may be a requirement to report suspected abuse to a law enforcement agency.
Long Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman State LTC ombudsman programs investigate and resolve nursing home complaints, and in some areas, complaints about board and care facilities and professional home care providers. If you are concerned about abuses, check the state Long Term Care Ombudsman program in your area for help.