OHIO VALLEY — After a long happy life, most dream of being able to take it easy during their retirement surrounded by family and friends in the last chapters of their lives, and unfortunately that scenario is not always a reality.
That dream can be taken away from elderly in the surrounding communities when they are victims of elder abuse. While it may not be a commonly discussed issue, elder abuse can be devastating for those who experience it and for the family and friends of the victims. Fortunately, there are those working to help end elder abuse and prevent it as much as possible by spreading the word about World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on Friday, June 15.
Several local residents are working to make sure this issue is brought to the forefront in hopes or preventing and reporting abuse of local elderly citizens who are potential victims. Beverly Hauder, Project Administrator for the Mason County Action Group/Gene Salem Senior Center, has been working for this cause, and stated that elder abuse is a growing problem, not only in Mason County, but all over the nation, especially now that the baby boomer generation is growing older. Another local agency that is working to help elderly citizens against abuse is the Area Agency on Aging District Seven (AAA7), which includes Gallia County, and several other surrounding counties. According to a press release from AAA7, there may be as many as five million elder abuse victims each year in the United States.
Even though there can be so many victims, the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) stated that the gravity of this issue is somewhat unknown because there are many cases that are not reported. The NCEA stated that one in ten elders may experience some type of abuse, but only one in five cases are reported. Elder abuse can happen in a variety of places, including nursing homes and the other institutions, and even the victim’s own home. It was also reported by the NCEA that the abusers can often be trusted individuals, such as spouses, family members, personal acquaintances, or professionals in positions of trust, as well as opportunistic strangers.
The NCEA defines elder abuse as “intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or ‘trusted’ individual that leads to, or may lead to, harm of a vulnerable elder.” The types of abuse can include physical abuse, neglect, emotional, sexual, exploitation, neglect, abandonment, and self-neglect. While signs of abuse may be obvious to some, others may not know what to look for. The NCEA defines these types of abuse, and some of their warning signs, as the following:
Physical abuse — Use of force to threaten or physically injure a vulnerable elder. Warning signs are slap marks, unexplained bruises, most pressure points, and certain types of burns or blisters, such as cigarette burns.
Emotional abuse — Verbal attacks, threats, rejection, isolation, or belittling acts that cause or could cause mental anguish, pain, or distress to a senior. Warning signs are withdrawal from normal activities, unexplained changes in alertness, or other unusual behavioral changes.
Sexual abuse — Sexual contact that is forced, tricked, threatened, or otherwise coerced upon a vulnerable elder, including anyone who is unable to grant consent. Warning signs are bruises around the breast or genital area and unexplained sexually transmitted diseases.
Exploitation — Theft, fraud, misuse or neglect of authority, and use of undue influence as a lever to gain control over an older person’s money or property. Warning signs are sudden change in finances and accounts, alters wills and trusts, unusual bank withdrawals, checks written as “loans” or “gifts,” and loss of property.
Neglect — A caregiver’s failure or refusal to provide for a vulnerable elder’s safety, physical or emotional needs. Warning signs are pressure ulcers, filth, lack of medical care, malnutrition, or dehydration.
Abandonment — Desertion of a frail or vulnerable elder by anyone with a duty of care.
Self-Neglect — An inability to understand to consequences of one’s own actions or inaction, which leads to, or may lead to, harm or endangerment.
Hauder stated the biggest issue among elder abuse is perhaps financial abuse. According to the Administration on Aging (AOA), each year, elders lose an estimated $2.6 billion or more due to financial abuse and exploitation. The AAA7 also offers several tips on how financial abuse can be prevented. Those tips include using direct deposit for checks, not signing blank checks and allowing others to fill in the amount, canceling any unused ATM cards, not giving out your ATM/PIN number, checking bank statements for unauthorized transactions, and being cautious of joint accounts.
“Over the last few years, we have seen a substantial rise in financial abuse of our area’s elders,” says Kaye Inoshita, RN, Director of the Regional Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program with the Area Agency on Aging District 7. “We receive many calls about nursing home residents’ families keeping the residents’ pension and retirement income/checks instead of using it to pay for their loved one’s care. Often, it is the resident’s children keeping their parent’s checks to live on. This could be considered financial exploitation which is in fact a crime.”
WEAAD was first recognized on June 15, 2006. The AOA stated the purpose of the day was to “provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural social, economic, and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.”
If one suspects abuse of a loved one, there are many ways to report it and prevent it from continuing. A way for Mason County citizens to report abuse is by contacting the local adult protective services agency through the DHHR office at 304-675-0880. Hauder also said those at the Mason County Action Group are available to help report elder abuse, and those reporting can always remain anonymous.
The AAA7 also encourages those who are victims to contact their doctor or confide in a trusted friend or loved one and call the local Job and Family Services agency. Abuse in long term facilities can be reported to the AAA7 Ombudsman Program at 1-800-582-7277. If someone is in immediate danger, regardless of either county, one should call 911 or the local police department or sheriff’s office.
Hauder stated the Mason County Action Group wants to be known as those who help local residents become more aware of issues like this. She went on to say this day serves as a reminder to check in with our elderly family and friends, and be aware for signs of abuse, a sentiment those at the AAA7 would surely agree with.
“We can’t just close our eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist,” Hauder said.
To learn more about the issue of elder abuse, visit www.ncea.aoa.gov. To contact the AAA7, call 1-800-582-7277. To contact the Mason County Action Group, call 304-675-2369.