Jun 14, 2017 by Stephen R
Elder abuse is seldom talked about. It is taboo in many places. But we need to discuss the topic openly and honestly if we are to make sure our elders are not abused.
Here is an example we dealt with recently. Margaret left her home to move in with her daughter and her family. This was supposed to be a good thing for Margaret. Her son-in-law Tom had always made her a tad uneasy, but she adored her daughter and grandchildren. But she quickly learned that Tom is always good to her when her daughter is around. But as soon as others are out of ear-shot, Tom’s verbal abuse and intimidation begins. He calls her stupid. He mocks the way she moves or talks. He tells her that she disgusts him and that she had better watch her step or he'll send her to a home. He threatened that if Margaret breathes a word of what he said to her daughter, he will deny it, take all her money and leave her to the wolves.
Margaret’s daughter was puzzled as to why her mother then became so withdrawn. She refused to leave her room except for meals. And even then she hardly ate and rarely spoke. When Comfort Keepers was hired to assist Margaret during the day, she quickly confided in her caregiver who reported the abuse to the authorities. Her daughter now knows why her mother shut down in what she thought was a loving environment. Tom is no longer living in the household and Margaret is thriving.
Unfortunately, this type of activity occurs nearly every day in our society. As the owner of an agency that provides professional caregiving services in the home for many elders and those with disabilities, I have witnessed elder abuse and have reported it to the authorities. It is not an easy topic to discuss, yet it must be discussed. There is no one explanation for elder abuse and neglect. Elder abuse is a complex problem that can stem from multiple causes, such as family stressors, caregiving stress and societal and cultural issues.
Too many times the issue of elder abuse is swept under the rug.
Nearly 4 million older Americans are victims of physical, psychological or other forms of abuse and neglect annually! But statistics may not tell the whole story. For every case of elder abuse and neglect reported to authorities, experts estimate that another 20 cases go undetected! The quality of life of older individuals who experience abuse is severely jeopardized, as they often experience declining functional and financial status and progressive dependency, poor health, feelings of helplessness and loneliness and increased psychological distress. According to recent research people who have been abused tend to die earlier than those who have not been abused, even in the absence of chronic conditions or life-threatening disease.
Elder abuse is a complex problem, and it is easy for people to have misconceptions about it. Many people who hear "elder abuse and neglect" think about older people who live in nursing homes or older relatives who live all alone and never have visitors. But elder abuse is not just a problem of older people living in the periphery of everyday life. It is right in our midst:
Most incidents of elder abuse don't happen in nursing homes and other residential settings. Infrequently you will read about shocking reports of staff who abuse residents in their care or of a resident who physically or sexually abuses another resident. Although such abuse does occur, the vast majority of older people living in nursing homes and other residential settings have their physical and emotional needs met without experiencing abuse or neglect.
Most elder abuse and neglect takes place at home. About 95 percent of older people live on their own or with their spouses, children, siblings or other relatives not in institutional settings. When elder abuse happens, family, other household members or paid caregivers are usually the abusers. Although there are extreme cases of elder abuse, often the abuse is subtle, and the distinction between normal interpersonal stress and abuse is not always easy to discern.
There is no single pattern of elder abuse. Sometimes elder abuse is a continuation of long-standing patterns of violence and physical, emotional or financial abuse within the family. More commonly, elder abuse is related to changes in living situations and relationships brought about either by the older person's growing frailty and dependence on others for companionship and for meeting basic needs or by a family member's increased reliance on an older relative for shelter and financial support.
It isn't just older adults who have poor physical health or cognitive impairments that are vulnerable to abuse. Older individuals who are frail, alone or depressed as well as those with a physical disability or mental illness are vulnerable to abuse. Even those who do not have these obvious risk factors can find themselves in abusive situations and relationships .No elder is exempt from the possibility of abuse. Elder abuse affects older men and women across all socioeconomic groups, cultures, races and ethnicities.
Elder abuse, like other forms of violence, is never an acceptable response to any problem or situation, however stressful. Effective interventions can prevent or stop elder abuse. Increasing awareness among physicians, mental health professionals, home health care workers and others who provide services to older adults and family members can help break patterns of abuse or neglect, and both the person experiencing the abuse and the abuser can receive needed help.
Elder abuse is the infliction of physical, emotional/psychological, sexual or financial harm on an older adult. Elder abuse can also take the form of intentional or unintentional neglect of an older adult by the caregiver.
Physical abuse can range from slapping or shoving to severe beatings and restraining with ropes or chains
Verbal, emotional or psychological abuse can range from name calling or giving the "silent treatment" to intimidating and threatening the individual. When a family member, a caregiver or another person behaves in a way that causes fear, mental anguish or emotional pain or distress, the behavior can be regarded as abusive.
Sexual abuse can range from sexual exhibition to rape. Financial abuse and exploitation can range from misuse of an older person's funds to embezzlement
Caregiver neglect can range from caregiving strategies that withhold appropriate attention from the individual to intentionally failing to meet the physical, social or emotional needs of the older person.
Abuse comes in many forms, but the net effect is the same. Abuse creates potentially dangerous situations and feelings of worthlessness, and it isolates the older person from people who can help.
The first and most important step toward preventing elder abuse is to recognize that no one, whatever their age, should be subjected to violent, abusive, humiliating or neglectful behavior. In addition to promoting this social attitude, we can take positive steps such as educating people about elder abuse, increasing the availability of respite care, promoting increased social contact and support for families with dependent older adults, and encouraging counseling and treatment to cope with personal and family problems that contribute to abuse.
If you suspect that an older person is being abused or neglected, don't let your fear of meddling in someone else's business stop you from reporting your suspicions. You could be saving someone's life.
Some phone numbers that you should know.
Dane County Senior Hotline to Help: 608-266-9007
If the abuse or neglect is occurring within Dane County, Wisconsin, and is not occurring in a State-licensed facility, call the Dane County Elder Abuse/Neglect Unit at 608-261-9933. (This includes Adult Protective Services (APS).
If the abuse or neglect is occurring in a State-licensed nursing home, call the State Division of Quality Assurance at 608-266-7474.
If the abuse or neglect is occurring in a State-licensed program such as an assisted living facility, community based residential facility (CBRF), adult family home (AFH), adult day care program, or residential care apartment complex (RCAC), call the State Bureau of Assisted Living at 608-264-9888.
If the abuse or neglect is occurring outside of Dane County, Wisconsin, call the Elder Care Locator at 1-800-677-1116
Stephen P. Rudolph is the owner of Comfort Keeper of South Central Wisconsin, a leading home care agency. Comfort Keepers provides personal cares and other services for aging and those with disabilities to allow them to continue living safely and in the privacy of their own, Comfort Keepers is a member of the Better Business Bureau of Wisconsin, the Home Care Association of America (HCAOA) and numerous Chambers of Commerce. Rudolph has a Masters Degree in Health Care Administration, is Board Certified in Health Care Management, a Fellow in the American College of Health Care Executives(FACHE), is a licensed Nursing Home Administrator (NHA), a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) and a member of the Society of Certified Senior Advisors.