Originally published on The Star on November 24, 2014 by Adrian Rogers.
Some forms of elder abuse don’t leave bruises. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists six types of abuse affecting seniors:
Physical. The elder is injured from hitting, kicking, pushing, slapping, burning or another show of force.
Sexual. The elder is forced to take part in a sexual act when he or she doesn’t or can’t consent.
Emotional. The elder’s self-worth or emotional well being is harmed, such as through name calling, being scared or embarrassed, the destruction of their property, or being isolated from their friends and family.
Neglect. The elder’s basic needs — food, housing, clothing, medical care —go unmet.
Abandonment. The caregiver leaves the elder alone, no longer providing care.
Financial. The elder’s money, property or assets are illegally misused.
In the United States, roughly one in 10 elders report mistreatment or neglect, according to federal statistics.
But some who suffer emotional, physical or sexual abuse or neglect don’t tell anyone, fearful of retaliation — or reluctant to report someone they care about or depend on.
“How many of us would want to put our own children in jail?” said Linda Petrie, coordinator of the Eastern Washington Long Term Care Ombudsman program.
Friends, relatives, caregivers and neighbours of “vulnerable adults” — anyone 60 or older who can’t take care of themselves — can keep their eyes open for signs of potential abuse, however.
The Ontario government funds The Ontario Network for the Prevention of Elder abuse, whose toll-free senior safety line is 1-866-299-1011, its home page is at onpea.org.
And the Toronto Police Service has an elder-abuse web page with information and two distress centre numbers, 416 598-1121 and (416) 486-1456, where people can seek assistance.
Acronyms flew recently at a U.S. panel where a half-dozen investigators explained their roles and jurisdictions at a meeting designed to foster connections among people working with vulnerable adults, including the elderly.
Those who commonly report cases of possible abuse include workers at licensed living facilities, social workers, police and heath care providers.
“But we also get a lot from family members,” said Patrick Stickel, field services administrator for Adult Protective Services at the Department of Social and Health Services in Washington state. “We’ve got a lot of family members calling on other family members.”
About 70 per cent of alleged perpetrators are elders’ family members, Stickel said. “There’s a lot of kids and grandkids stealing from their parents and grandparents.”
The signs of elder abuse can be obvious or subtle. Among them:
Behaviour changes. Maybe a talkative person suddenly goes quiet, or a person with hobbies suddenly has none.
“That kind of withdrawing away from their normal life, that’s a red flag,” Stickel said.
Isolation. An abusive family member, for example, who has started making frequent visits to the elder’s home, or moved in, might repeatedly tell visitors the elder is unavailable — sleeping or sick — or just let their door go unanswered.
“We call it the stiff arm,” Stickel said.
Signs of physical injury. Pressure marks, abrasions and burns can indicate mistreatment or neglect. While bruising on a senior’s arms and legs might be explained by accidental bumps, bruising elsewhere on the body deserves attention, Petrie said.
Abandonment or neglect. When a caregiver leaves a vulnerable adult without basic necessities, it’s a form of abuse. The elder might have been deserted in their home, their physical appearance might have suddenly declined, their health problems might have gone untreated, or their living conditions might be unsafe.
Missing property or cash. Money might have been transferred suddenly or checks or bank cards used without the elder’s OK.
Former Spokane County, Wash. prosecutor Lynn Mounsey runs an advocacy group called VALU (for Vulnerable Adult Links United). She prosecuted people who abused and killed vulnerable adults. They included a certified nursing assistant found guilty of manslaughter for negligent care in an elderly woman’s death.
The group was formed so people working in their various fields to protect vulnerable adults could connect with one another. “We realized the net needed to be global in our community,” Mounsey said.
The net can extend to laypeople.
“Check in every now and again” on elders, she said. “If they won’t come out from behind the door, they won’t open it all the way, and they used to be very friendly — that might be something worth trying to further explore.”
Maybe there’s an abuser in the house with them. Maybe they’re losing weight from neglect and unable to dress themselves.
“People can decline fairly quickly, and they either don’t know how to reach for help or they’re unable to call for help,” Mounsey said. “Or they don’t know there’s help available.”
Their basic message is to report potential abuse, to be on the safe side. “If you’re wrong — if we go out and do an investigation and we don’t find anything — then we celebrate,” Stickel said.
Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review