Prevent elder abuse and protect the older generation | #healthcare | #elderly | #seniors
Eric M. Hoffman
As Americans, we believe in justice for all. Yet, we fail to achieve this promise when we allow older members of our society to be abused, neglected or exploited. The elder generation are vital, contributing members of American society and their maltreatment diminishes all of us and threatens the well-being of our community. Just as we confront and address the social issues of child abuse and domestic violence, so too can we find solutions to address elder abuse.
Nearly 1 in 10 American senior citizens are abused or neglected each year, yet according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration for Community Living only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse is brought to the attention of authorities. Elder “abuse” can take many forms including physical abuse, psychological abuse, neglect, financial exploitation, and theft.
To raise awareness of this injustice, the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse introduced the first World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 13 years ago. In 2011, the United Nations officially designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. In addition, June is recognized as World Elder Abuse Awareness Month. During June, government agencies and organizations promote local and national events to alert communities, seniors, caregivers, and others to the signs of elder abuse, and to stress the importance of understanding, recognizing, and reporting this type of abuse or neglect when suspected.
The most common warning signs of elder abuse include:
- Unexplained financial loss;
- Unexplained bruises or injuries;
- Presence of new and older bruises at the same time;
- Depression or anxiety;
- Verbal abuse;
- Changes in mood or behavior;
- Rapid decline in health;
- Sudden confusion;
- Unexplained weight loss;
- Neglecting care needs; and/or
- Hesitation to speak openly.
The worldwide COVID pandemic has made it difficult to remain in personal contact with our elderly population. Staying in touch during this time of social distancing is good way to help prevent abuse and neglect. While older adults are being advised to stay home whenever possible, remember that the phone, social media and email are ways to connect with someone; social distancing does NOT mean social isolation. Unfortunately, it is during this pandemic that elder abuse, neglect and exploitation could reach a new all-time high.
Abuse, neglect, and exploitation are not isolated to the confines of a person’s own home. Sadly, it often occurs in nursing homes as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1.4 million older adults and people with disabilities live in nursing homes. If a nursing home participates in Medicare or Medicaid — and most do — it must meet requirements “to promote and protect the rights of each resident.” This means nursing homes are required to care for their residents in a way that enhances the quality of life for residents, respects their dignity and ensures they are able to make choices for themselves.
Established by federal law, the “Residents’ Bill of Rights,” states that if you live in a nursing home, you are entitled to certain rights including:
- The right to be fully informed in a language you understand of all aspects of your residency;
- The right to participate in all aspects of your care;
- The right to make independent choices based on your needs and preferences;
- The right to privacy and confidentiality;
- The right to safe and appropriate transfer and discharge, including the right to appeal decisions;
- The right to visits from friends, family, providers and other people of your choosing;
- The right to participate in social, religious and community activities;
- The right to organize and participate in resident groups, often called resident councils;
- The right to complain without fear of repercussions;
- The right to be free from discrimination;
- The right to be free from abuse, neglect and restraint;
- The right to adequate medical care and treatment; and
- The right to get information about alternatives to nursing homes.
Every state has an advocate, called a long-term care ombudsman, for residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and similar residential care facilities. These advocates work to resolve problems affecting residents’ health, safety, welfare and rights. Residents, their families, and others have the right to contact their local ombudsman program to help them understand their rights, learn about community resources, and work through problems. For more information on these rights, contact the Indiana Ombudsman at 402 W. Washington St., P.O. Box 7083, Indianapolis, IN, 46207-7083 1-800-622-4484 or the local Ombudsman at 1701 Pilgrim Blvd, Yorktown, IN, 47396 765-759-3371.
There are many ways to get involved in strengthening our community and preventing elder abuse. It is up to all of us to prevent and address elder abuse. Talk about it — to your leaders, and to your neighbors. Advocate for elder abuse prevention and intervention programs. Raise public awareness by conducting friendly calls, virtual presentations and distributing materials via mail and email about elder abuse through networks of senior centers, places of worship, medical networks, etc. Educate yourself and enable others to better recognize the warning signs. Volunteer to be a friendly visitor and either call, mail or email an older person living in the community. Suggest telephone helpline programs or assist in arranging meal or grocery delivery services for someone who is a caregiver.
Most importantly, report suspected elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation. In Indiana since 1985, Adult Protective Services or “APS” has been tasked with investigating neglect, self-neglect, abuse, and exploitation of anyone who may be an endangered adult. If you have concerns about elder abuse, neglect, self-neglect or exploitation, please contact APS at 765-641-9585. Of course if someone is in imminent danger, call 911 immediately.
There are other resources available as well that include:
- Indiana Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection Division 1-800- 382-5516;
- Indiana Attorney General’s Office Identity Theft Unit 1-800-382-5516.
- Indiana Do Not Call Registry 888-834-9969;
- National Elder Fraud Hotline 1-833-372-8311;
- Eldercare Locater 1-800-677-1116; and/or
Let us never forget that it was the elder population of today who took care of us when we were the infant population of yesteryear. It is time we pay back those who spent their entire lives protecting and caring for each of us. Let those who came before us know that they are not alone, they will be protected, and that their voices will be heard.
Eric Hoffman is Delaware County prosecutor.