By – Andrea Rogers
Norma Evanston is an 88-year old widow who had remained healthy until two years ago, when she suffered a fall. Since her children live out of state, the family made several long-distance calls and ultimately, hired a local caregiver. However, several months later, after a concerning phone call, the family realized that the caregiver was not providing the professional care they expected. Despite the fact that the caregiver was hired from a “reputable” company, Norma’s doctor reported that Norma had suspicious bedsores and had missed a scheduled appointment. Fortunately, the family was able to make alternate arrangements to ensure that Norma received the proper care and respect she deserves.
Unfortunately, Norma’s story is not an isolated case. Nationwide, research suggests that more than 2 million elderly people are abused, neglected, or mistreated each year. However, experts say that number is most likely much higher, since most cases are never reported.
What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse refers to the intentional mistreatment of elderly people either through abuse or negligence resulting in harm or loss. Abuse can be in the form of physical, emotional, or mental mistreatment including; assault, battery, sexual abuse, improper restraints, withholding of food or water, improper administration of medication, and the failure to assist with personal hygiene such as showers or restroom use.
Elder abuse does not have to include physical, mental, or emotional abuse. In fact, some caregivers are kind to an elderly person to gain access to their property or bank information. Elder abuse can also include theft of property, personal identity, or money. Sometimes, a person who says they will help an elderly friend or relative may attempt to take advantage by moving in with the elderly person only to try to take control of their property or money.
What kind of Care do Elders Need and Deserve?
Care for the elderly will be based on their specific needs and will be determined by their ability to care for themselves. Even though they may still be living in their own homes, some elderly people may need help with tasks such as shopping, driving, or maintaining the home. People living in assisted living facilities may require assistance with cleaning and meal preparation. It is important to receive the input of your loved one to help determine their level of need. Families will need to be sensitive yet realistic as they go through the process of making care decisions with and for their elderly loved ones.
Many elderly people require round-the-clock care. Those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia may be physically fit, but unable to care for themselves or make decisions about their care. Others may require 24 hour care because they are bed-ridden due to an illness, fall, or advanced age.
Regardless of their physical state, all elderly people need to be treated kindly and respectfully. Their feelings, habits, and desires should be taken into account when a treatment plan is put in place. For instance, elderly people who are able, should be encouraged to interact with their peers and continue to pursue personal pleasures. Studies show that elderly people who maintain active lifestyles and those who retain friendships live healthier and longer lives.
Who Abuse the Elderly?
Abuse or mistreatment of the elderly comes at the hand of someone who is entrusted with their care. Caregivers may be strangers hired from caregiving agencies, but they can also be family members, or friends. They may also be employees of a nursing home, or rehabilitation or assisted living facility. Unfortunately, many caregivers who abuse the elderly are children or grandchildren of the elderly person. Regardless, it is never acceptable to allow anyone to perpetuate abuse, and there is help for those who believe they or a loved one is being abused.
People who do not have the support of family or friends are often the target of abuse or mistreatment. Those with mental or physical functional impairment are also at risk.
Signs of abuse vary. However, it is important that you or someone you trust is able to physically visit periodically with your loved one to ensure they are not being abused or mistreated.
Look for these warning signs:
- Bruises, broken bones, burns, or pressure marks
- Unmet medical or dental care needs
- Unexplained changes from normal habits – such as eating habits
- New signs of depression or signs of fear
- Bedsores, poor hygiene – such as matted hair, uncut nails, toileting, and dental issues.
- Unexplained weight loss
- Financial losses or unexplained change in assets
- Sudden withdrawal from social activities
- Unexplained or sudden change in personality
If you suspect abuse, ACT NOW!
Where to Find Help
State laws vary, but all are designed to stop the abuse of our elders. CALL 911 if an elderly person appears in need of immediate care. Elderly people may be in immediate danger of harm or death if left in the care of abusive or negligent people.
The Adult Protective Services (APS) agency in your state is often a first resource. The number in your state can be found by visiting the National Center on Elder Abuse at http://ncea.aoa.gov/Stop_Abuse/Get_Help/State/index.aspx. You can also call 1-800-677-1116.
Elder abuse is investigated by various agencies including, Adult Protective Services, as well as, local and state law enforcement.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Even if you don’t have an elderly loved one, you can help others by keeping an eye out for your neighbors, co-workers, and friends. Watch for unkempt yards, or mail piling up at an elderly neighbor’s house. This may be a sign that they are having trouble keeping up with their house, or getting around. Ask questions if they appear to exhibit any warning signs of abuse or neglect. Let them know you are willing to help!