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How to Recognize, Prevent and Address Elder Abuse

October 15, 2018

No matter what age, everyone is entitled to be treated with kindness, respect and compassion. Unfortunately, elder abuse is a widespread problem and hundreds of thousands of adults over the age of sixty are abused, neglected, or financially exploited each year – many in their own homes. But what can you do about it? Promoting public awareness of the issue; providing support and training for caregivers; and reporting abuse when you suspect it are some of the ways to help curb neglect and abuse of elders.

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According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), elder abuse is a significant public health problem with one out of every ten people ages sixty and older who live at home experiencing abuse, including neglect and exploitation. The CDC states: “This statistic is likely an underestimate because many victims are unable or afraid to disclose or report the violence.” The American Psychological Association projects that for every report of elderly abuse, five others go unreported, so that cases of elder abuse are even higher than estimated.

What is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse includes physical, emotional, or sexual harm inflicted upon an older adult, their financial exploitation, or neglect of their welfare by people who are directly responsible for their care as well as self-neglect. Elder abuse can happen in a nursing home or in the elder’s own home. It can be perpetrated by a stranger, a family member, a hired caregiver, or the elder himself.

Warning signs of abuse can include bruises or broken bones; sudden changes in financial situations; malnutrition; wandering; eviction; depression or withdrawal; and frequent arguments or threats with a caregiver. For more specific examples, visit “Types and signs of elder abuse” at mass.gov.

How to Reduce Elder Abuse

There are various causes for elder abuse, such as understaffing at nursing homes, caregiver burn-out, and criminal intentions to take advantage of those who are frail and vulnerable. To prevent the victimization of our elders in society, there are many things you can do. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) provides a list of “12 Things That Anyone Can Do to Prevent Elder Abuse.”

And here are some additional steps you can take to prevent abuse of the elderly from the Nursing Home Abuse Center:

  • Stay in touch with your elders and avoid isolating them. Isolation can cause depression, sadness and loneliness that will increase the chances of neglect or abuse. Family members can help be on the lookout for changes that may suggest abuse.
  • Keep elders active. Staying active in old age can prolong an elder’s life and decrease the chances that they will be vulnerable to elder abuse. Encourage them to attend religious services and community activities.
  • Be wary of caregivers or friends needing financial help, someone who is known to be abusive or violent, or those who have issues with illicit drugs.
  • Elders should be aware of their own financial affairs and should be informed to be wary of solicitations from the telephone, internet or mail to avoid financial abuse.
  • Don’t allow a caretaker or family member to impulsively alter an elder’s will, or add their names to financial accounts or land titles.

There are also measures that elders themselves can take to stay safe. The National Council on Aging recommends older adults can take these steps:

  • Seek professional help for drug, alcohol, and depression concerns and urge family members to get help for these problems.
  • Attend support groups for spouses and learn about domestic violence services.
  • Plan for your own future. With a power of attorney or a living will, you can address health care decisions now to avoid confusion and family problems later. Seek independent advice from someone you trust before signing any documents.
  • Stay active in the community and connected with friends and family. This will decrease social isolation, which has been connected to elder abuse.
  • Post and open your own mail.
  • Do not give personal information over the phone.
  • Use direct deposit for all checks.
  • Review your will periodically.
  • Know your rights. If you engage the services of a paid or family caregiver, you have the right to voice your preferences and concerns. If you live in a nursing home, call your Long Term Care Ombudsman. The ombudsman is your advocate and has the power to intervene.

To avoid scams, The Executive Office of Elder Affairs in Massachusetts recommends these tips for elders:

  • Never give out personal information over the telephone such as Social Security Number, date-of-birth, credit card number, bank account number or Medicare number, if you have not initiated the call.
  • Only give out personal information over the telephone if you have initiated the call to make a purchase or a charitable donation.
  • Do not give out personal information in person (many scam artists target the elderly at home by going door-to-door) if you have not scheduled an appointment with the caller.
  • Never give in to pressure tactics from a caller. A legitimate business or charitable organization will not pressure you into making a purchase or giving a donation.
  • Remember, if you feel pressured or suspicious of the caller, you can always hang up!
  • Remember, you can request the caller to give you their telephone number and you can make the call yourself before giving out personal information. A tactic of the Drug Discount Card Scam is to give the elder person a telephone number that is disconnected.

What to Do if You Suspect Abuse

Anyone who suspects that an older adult is being mistreated should contact a local Adult Protective Services office, Long-Term Care Ombudsman, or police. If an older adult is in immediate, life-threatening danger, call 911.

In Massachusetts, Elder Abuse Reports can be filed 24 hours a day either online at mass.gov or by phone at (800) 922-2275. To report abuse of a person by a nursing home or hospital, call the Department of Public Health at (800) 462-5540. Call 911 or local police if you have an emergency or life-threatening situation.

The NCEA describes various scenarios and ways to Get Help, and more information is available from the Eldercare Locator online or by calling (800) 677-1116.

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