Combating Elder Abuse

Occupational therapists launch new guidelines to help stop elder abuse before it starts (CNW Group/Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists)by Martine Bacci Siegel

Elder abuse is a significant problem in the United States; over 500,000 cases of mistreatment against adults aged 60 or more are reported annually. During State Fiscal Year 2015, the Kentucky Department for Community Based Services received 30,037 calls for reports concerning adults 60 years and older. Those calls were screened and 12,618 met acceptance criteria for an adult protective services investigation under KRS 209. Sadly, in the majority of these incidents the abusers are members of the victim’s own family.

Abuse toward older people can occur in various forms. The most common types of elder maltreatment include physical abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, neglect or abandonment, financial exploitation, sexual abuse, and health care fraud and abuse.

It can be difficult to identify symptoms of elder abuse as they may be similar to the expected signs of physical and cognitive decline usually associated with old age. This fact, in conjunction with assurances from the caregiver that everything is fine, can easily contribute to a loved one overlooking warning signs for abuse.

Some of the signs of elder abuse include:

  • Unexplained signs of bodily injury such as welts, scratches, bruises, scars, sprains, broken bones, or dislocations
  • signs of restraint on wrists or ankles, having too much or too little medication left over (based on the dosage instructions)
  • the caregiver refusing to allow the elderly person to meet with visitors alone
  • Signs of emotional abuse include behaviors such as avoiding eye contact, not talking openly, or expressing the desire to hurt oneself or someone else.

There are many factors which could potentially contribute to the onset and perpetuation of elder abuse. If a caregiver is untrained, unable to cope with stress, receives little support, or views his or her caregiving responsibility as a burden, then the possibility that the caregiver may turn to abusive behaviors toward an elder increases. Debilitating illnesses, an elderly person’s history with the caregiver, social isolation of the older person and the caregiver from other individuals, as well as the elder’s own aggressive tendencies may also trigger the onset of abuse.

Several strategies can be employed to reduce the likelihood of elder abuse. These include:

  • Listening intently to the elder.
  • Asking family members and friends for help with caregiving.
  • Utilizing local adult day care programs.
  • Eating nutritious foods and maintaining healthy personal habits.
  • Employing stress relief and relaxation techniques.
  • Visiting caregiver support groups.
  • Calling caregiver support hotlines.
  • Encouraging regular visits from friends and relatives.
  • Staying alert to signs and symptoms of abuse.
  • Getting involved when abuse is suspected.
  • Educating others about elder abuse

If you suspect elder abuse, you are legally required to report it. You can report abuse at the 24 hour toll free hotlines at 1-877-597-2331 or 1-800-752-6200. Calls can be made anonymously.

Do you have family issues where you feel that you need professional assistance? Contact the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Counseling Referral Services at (502) 636-1044 or by email at counseling@archlou.org.

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