It’s not the easiest topic to think about, but it’s one that cannot be avoided. Elder abuse is becoming all too common, and sadly, I’m sure that the cases we hear about are just the tip of the iceberg.
On March 11th In Huntington Beach, CA, the live-in caretaker of an 84-year-old woman was charged with financial elder abuse, grand theft, identity theft, vehicle theft, fraud and forgery. At a nursing facility in Pittsburgh, PA, a direct care worker was recently fined for hitting and verbally abusing a patient with dementia over an extended period of time. Three out of five cases of elder abuse occur in a senior’s own home at the hands of family members, according to data from the National Association of Adult Protective Services Administrators. It is truly frightening to think about the scores of elders who are being abused every day, whether it’s physical, verbal, emotional, financial, sexual – or all of the above.
Caregiver stress may lead to abuse. As solidified by the statistic above, it is not always a hardened criminal who preys on a vulnerable elder. Sometimes the stress of caregiving can lead to abusive situations, in which case both the victim and the abuser are in need of help.
Neglect is another form of abuse that happens quite often among seniors. In long-term care facilities, high turnover rates and staffing shortages (coupled with the lack of training, support, and resources) create the perfect storm for neglect or other types of abuse to occur.
Financial exploitation also runs rampant in these care settings. I have lost count of how many times I heard about residents missing money during my years of work in senior living facilities. In one community, dozens of residents lost thousands in a string of incidents; it took over a year to “catch” all of the employees involved.
Alzheimer’s and other types of dementias could cause the individual suffering from the disease to become abusive to a spouse, other family members, or a professional caregiver. These unique cases require specialized education, sensitivity, and hands-on crisis intervention skills.
Awareness is important, even if you’re not a caregiver for an elder. Know the warning signs. Identify who to call if you suspect abuse. Familiarize yourself with the state and local resources available to support at-risk elders. If you have an elderly neighbor who lives alone or has home care, check on him now and then. Even if your neighbor has a family member living at home, remember that statistic about family abuse and keep an eye out.
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- Michelle Seitzer