On June 15, 2006, the World Health Organization launched the first World Elder Abuse Awareness Day with the purpose of promoting a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons throughout the world. Abuse can take many forms, including physical, emotional, sexual, and financial, but also abandonment and neglect. According to the National Council on Aging, family members are the perpetrators almost 60% of the time, but abuse also occurs at the hands of nursing home and assisted living staff and even strangers. Education, prevention and advocacy are necessary to stamp out elder abuse worldwide. With these goals in mind, we will explore warning signs of abuse, ways to prevent abuse and opportunities for involvement in this global movement.
How can I spot suspected abuse?
Physical signs of abuse can include dehydration or unusual weight loss, unexplained injuries, unsanitary living conditions, unattended medical needs and unattended daily living tasks (bathing, proper dressing, hygiene). Emotional signs of abuse can include anxiety or fear, isolation from friends or family, unusual changes in sleep or behavior and withdrawal from normal activities. Financial signs of abuse can include fraudulent signatures on financial documents, unpaid bills, unusual spending or changes to a will or financial documents.
How can abuse be prevented?
Since family members are the most common perpetrators, caregiver self-care is of the utmost importance. Caregivers can access support groups, resources and respite care through their local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). A Texas-wide directory for AAA can be located by calling the Health and Human Services hotline at 1-800-252-9240. It is wise for elders and their families to seek treatment for alcohol or drug abuse as well as mental illness as these factors can exacerbate abuse. Elders can also take steps to protect themselves by planning ahead with a power of attorney and living will to avoid confusion with family members in the future. It is also wise to review your will periodically. Staying connected with one’s family, friends and community can reduce social isolation, which is a risk factor for abuse. Elders can also open their own mail, not give personal information over the phone and use direct deposit for all checks to reduce financial exploitation. Lastly, it is important to know your rights if you employ paid caregivers at home or reside in a nursing home. If you live in a nursing home, a Long Term Care Ombudsman is assigned to you as an advocate for your rights as a resident. In Texas, you can call 1-800-252-2412 to locate your ombudsman.
What do I do if I suspect abuse?
If you suspect elder abuse or neglect, contact Adult Protective Services of Texas at 1-800-252-5400. For other states, visit napsa-now.org for a listing. You do not need proof of abuse to report, only suspicion. Every resident of Texas is legally mandated to report suspected abuse or neglect. If there is an emergency, contact your local police right away.
How can we advocate for our elders?
There are many things you can do to advocate for elder abuse prevention. Check on your elderly friends, family and neighbors to keep them connected socially and to monitor for signs of abuse. Report suspected abuse or neglect right away. Educate your network on the signs of elder abuse and what can be done to prevent it. Provide over-burdened caregivers with respite and support. You can also join the National Adult Protective Services Association to be involved in education and national policy including the Elder Justice Act. Information on NAPSA and the Elder Justice Act can be located at napsa-now.org under “Get Involved”.
– Kimberly Haney, LCSW, C-ASWCM