Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What is Elder Abuse

Abuse inflicted on elder people is unfortunately a situation, which more often than not, goes undetected or unreported.

It is estimated that in 2010 slightly fewer than six million cases of elder abuse occurred across the United States. Of those six million cases, approximately 500 cases were reported in Rhode Island – a small, but still significant number that is growing each year. Year after year, statistics show that women are more likely to be abused than men. The most disturbing fact, however, is that a family member, in one way or another, is often the abuser.

The best way to end the growing epidemic of elder abuse is to recognize what elder abuse is, and protect against becoming a victim. Over the coming months, it is my hope to share with you what constitutes elder abuse, how to protect, and what to do if you or someone you know is a victim of abuse.
Elder abuse is a term referring to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.

The most common form of elder abuse reported in Rhode Island is exploitation - the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else's benefit. The second most common form of elder abuse is neglect - failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder.

Other forms of elder abuse include physical assault, sexual assault, abandonment, and self-neglect. 
Modern medicines, technology, and our health care system allow more people to live longer than ever before. This same prolonged longevity leads older people to become reliant on others to manage their physical needs as well as their banking, investments, and other financial affairs.  With this dependency comes the risk that care-givers will exploit the older person's trust for their own advantage.

There are some signs to look out for if you suspect exploitation of an elderly person. The most common sign someone is a victim of exploitation is a change in the person’s financial situation such as missing or “disappearing” property, inadequate living environment, frequent/recent property title changes or will changes, excessive home repair bills, forced to sign over control of finances, and/or limited money for food, clothes and other amenities.

Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may also be indicators of exploitation. Strained or tense relationships, or frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are other signs that abuse is occurring.

It’s most important to be on alert for any of these signs. The suffering of an elder abuse victim, like that of any abuse victim, is often in silence for fear of losing the “support system” they depend upon. If you notice changes in a senior’s personality or behavior, you should start to question the recent changes in their life. Try to maintain constant contact with the suspected victim. Over time, the person will become more comfortable with you and hopefully admit that abuse is taking place.

If you have a concern for someone seek help for them by calling the police, their doctor, a close friend or family member. If you believe you are a victim of elder abuse please know that you are not alone. There is something you can do to end the abuse. Confiding in a friend, family member, doctor, or law enforcement could save your life.

To report known or suspected cases of elder abuse, call Rhode Island’s Department of Elderly Affairs Protective Services Unit at 401.462.0555. You can also contact the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General at 401.274.4400, or your local police department.