By Andrew R. Bronsnick
Our senior years should be a time of comfort, security and safety. Sadly, many older Americans are being victimized by those who should be caring for them. Here’s what to do if you discover elder abuse.
The United States has a shocking elder abuse problem, and it’s only getting worse. The latest federal health reports show a 75 percent increase in abusive behavior toward elderly men and a 35 percent increase against women. The World Health Organization has discovered that 2 out of 3 so-called caregivers admit to committing elder abuse in the last year.
What’s even more concerning is the statistics may be even higher than that. Many cases go unreported because they’re handled by private doctors, covered up by abusers or the victims are too scared or vulnerable to speak up.
Elder abuse is everyone’s responsibility. It can be difficult to pinpoint, since getting older brings physical and emotional fragility as a matter of course. Unscrupulous nursing staff may hide their abuse by explaining things away as a fall, a depressive episode or mental disorientation. Knowing the classifications of abuse helps us to spot it more effectively.
The forms of elder abuse
- Physical Abuse – When an elder person is physically hit or roughly treated in any way that causes physical damage or distress. This manifests in bruises, cuts or even burns and broken bones.
- Verbal/Emotional Abuse – This “invisible” abuse involves older people being subjected to yelling, name calling, accusations or threats. This has a terrible impact on emotional and mental health, and often leads to depression or fear in the victim, as well as sleeping problems or increased hostility toward others. Verbal abuse may also include abusers guiding or correcting an elder person’s speech to fit the abuser’s side of the story. Never accommodate any caregiver who refuses to allow you to speak to your elder family member in private. This qualifies as psychological abuse.
- Financial Abuse – Financial abuse takes many forms. Older people may find caregivers pressuring them to part with money or financial details so they can capitalize on the elder person’s vulnerable state. Some abusers hide this behind a mask of false friendship, claiming they only want to help their victim cash checks, withdraw from accounts or dictate a will. Healthcare fraud is when doctors or care institutions either overcharge for services rendered or for care that wasn’t provided or was unnecessary.
- Neglect/Abandonment – Doing nothing can be as damaging as actively hurting someone. Elder family members are left vulnerable to accidents, unattended health issues and social isolation when caregivers neglect them by ignoring regular check-ins or requests for assistance. Look for signs of decreased hygiene/grooming as well as the state of the elder’s room.
What you can do to fight elder abuse
We all have a moral and legal responsibility to fight elder abuse. Anyone can report their suspicions, even someone who is not a friend or family member. In many cases, such intervention may be the only hope an elder has. Abuse is all too often overlooked by those closest to the victim.
Family and friends can help prevent abuse by regularly contacting or visiting the elder. Ask how they’re feeling and how things are going in the nursing home. Let them know you’re there for them, that you’re listening and ready to provide support if they feel unsafe. You may even be able to stay with the elder for a time to see first-hand how they’re being treated.
In 1993, the Adult Protective Services Act was passed in New Jersey. It became mandatory in 2010 to report any abuse while ensuring that everyone who reports it has:
- A right to confidentiality of his/her identity
- Protection from civil and criminal liability, as well as professional disciplinary action, including protection against retaliation by an employer
- Protection for providing information, records or services related to a report of suspected mistreatment
An APS agent will investigate within 72 hours of a referral and conduct interviews with the elder and all relevant parties. Under New Jersey law, a temporary restraining order may be taken out against the accused before a formal legal solution has been reached. This could buy an elderly person valuable time and stop abuse in its tracks.
If you suspect abuse or neglect, contact your nearest APS office, call 609-588-6501 or notify your local police department to make a report. There are many other avenues to help fight elder abuse:
- Eldercare Locator is an excellent source of information and assistance.
- The National Center for Elder Abuse provides a top ten checklist for prevention.
- This factsheet will help if you need to report elder financial abuse and so will visiting the Elder Financial Protection project.
- The Administration for Community Living provides up-to-date research and information for the public and professionals at the local, state and national level.
These institutions do great work, but if you feel dissatisfied you can contact our office to discuss your concerns. We can assist throughout the process. Professional malpractice is one of our specialty areas and we’d be glad to help you and anyone you feel is at risk.