Elder Abuse: How to Spot, Stop, and Prevent it

By: Nelson W. Burns, CEO, Coleman Professional Services

According to the National Council on Aging, 10% of Americans 60 and older have experienced some form of elder abuse. Yet, per the Senate Special Committee on Aging, for every case of elder abuse reported, five go unreported. As CEO of Coleman Professional Services, the amount of abuse and underreporting is something I’m committed to do something about.  Bottom Line: To protect our seniors, we need to advocate and report abuses when we see them.

This blog will address the different types of elder abuse, the signs associated with each one, and what to do to prevent this problem in the first place.

What is Elder Abuse?

It is the infliction of physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual harm on an older adult.

Physical: Force causing pain or injury on another person. Caregiver neglect also falls in this category where food, water, medications, and personal hygiene are withheld.

Verbal: From name calling to the silent treatment, it’s meant to intimidate or cause distress. It can also take the form of cursing or yelling.

Emotional: This may come in the form of self-neglect where the individual chooses not to eat, self-medicates with drugs or alcohol, or refuses medical care.

Sexual: Inappropriate touching, rape, or coerced nudity.

What are the Signs?

Physical Abuse

  • Unexplained bruising, cuts, or marks especially on face, neck, arms, or feet
  • Asking for food and water when you see them
  • Visible weight loss
  • Sunken eyes
  • Missing items from their room such as medications, glasses, or hearing aids
  • Fearful or nonchalant attitude toward certain individuals, including denial of injuries

Verbal Abuse

  • Behavioral changes, such as isolation or unresponsiveness
  • Unreasonably suspicious or fearful of everyday activities

Emotional Abuse

  • Visible weight loss
  • Person is drunk or high when you visit
  • Refuses medical care
  • Lack of personal hygiene

Sexual

  • Vaginal or anal bleeding
  • Vaginal infections
  • Torn or bloody undergarments

What should you do if you spot it?

If you witness physical abuse, call 9-1-1.

As of September 27, 2018, Ohioans are required to report possible elder abuse by calling 1-855-OHIO-APS or by contacting Job and Family Services (JFS). To find the nearest county JFS, visit jfs.ohio.gov/county. Physical proof or other evidence is not required. Reports can be made anonymously. If mandatory reporters (i.e. in-home care agencies, assisted living facilities) fail to report possible abuse, they may face criminal charges.

If your loved one lives in a facility, share your concerns with the general manager or owner about what you suspect. If the issue remains unresolved, contact Ohio’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman to advocate on your behalf.

What are the federal laws?

Elder Justice Act (EJA)

Enacted into law in 2010, this Act authorizes $100 million for state and local Adult Protective Services Programs (APS). Additionally, $25 million was authorized for APS demonstration programs.

The EJA also provides additional support for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, creates elder abuse forensic centers, authorizes an Elder Abuse Coordinating Council for federal agencies and requires the reporting of crimes in long-term care facilities to law enforcement.

The Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act

This bill establishes requirements for the Department of Justice (DOJ) with respect to investigating and prosecuting elder abuse crimes and enforcing elder abuse laws. Specifically, DOJ must:

  • Designate Elder Justice Coordinators in federal judicial districts
  • Implement comprehensive training for Federal Bureau of Investigation agents
  • Establish a working group to provide policy advice

The Executive Office for United States Attorneys must operate a resource group to assist prosecutors in pursuing elder abuse cases.

Five Prevention Strategies

  1. Have your elders stay with you or close by.
    If they are in your home, you can provide them with a safe environment. If this is not possible, have them stay in an assisted living facility close to your home or work. Stop by daily, but at various times, to ensure you can see different staff interactions.

  2. Set up a schedule with your siblings or other family members.
    Ask that everyone choose a day to stop by or call. Encourage them to choose a day where they can spend several hours or when telephone conversations are not rushed. Contact each other if abnormal behavior is exhibited or there are signs of abuse.

  3. Take your elder to community events.
    Having an active social life and staying in touch with family helps ward off isolation and depression. Something to look forward to can make their day.

  4. Make sure they stay active.
    According to Senior-Living.com, staying active decreases chances for abuse. Such activities include golf, tennis, hiking, camping, swimming, and yoga. These activities also curb depression and prolong a person’s life.

  5. Be selective with caregivers.
    Do a thorough screening, call references, and watch them interact with your loved one. At any sign of trouble be sure to release them and report problems to the authorities.

Coleman Professional Services is Here to Help

In Stark County, we offer Adult Protective Services and have staff dedicated to conducting investigations into elder abuse, neglect and exploitation of individuals 60+ years old. If you suspect elder abuse, please call Stark County Job and Family Services at 330-451-8998 or contact Coleman 24/7 at 1-877-796-3555.

Note: Check out the article regarding Elder Abuse in last week's Canton Repository where our very own Susan Stroup was interviewed and provided vital information. Click here to read the article.