June 29, 2012
Q: How can I help spot cases of elder abuse?
A: In Massachusetts, there are 54 new reports of elder abuse filed every day---yet for every report made, another 25 incidents of abuse go unreported. The tell-tale signs of elder abuse often go unnoticed by friends or neighbors.
Elder abuse refers to intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or “trusted” individual, like a family member, that lead to harm of an elder. Abuse takes many forms: physical abuse; neglect; emotional or psychological abuse; financial abuse and exploitation; sexual abuse; and abandonment. Self-neglect is also a form of abuse in our state.\
If you suspect elder abuse, you should learn how to report it. Don’t assume that someone has already reported a suspicious situation. You can contact a Protective Services agency by calling 1-800-922-2275. You will be asked what you observed, and who was involved—so write down details of what you saw, and when. You do not need to prove that abuse is occurring--the professionals will do the investigations.
Here are some of the “red flags” or signs of elder abuse:
• Neglect: Lack of basic hygiene, adequate food, or clean and appropriate clothing • Lack of medical aids (glasses, walker, teeth, hearing aid, medications) • Person with dementia left unsupervised • Person confined to bed is left without care • Home cluttered, filthy, in disrepair, or having fire and safety hazards • Home without adequate facilities (stove, refrigerator, heat, cooling, working plumbing, and electricity) • Untreated pressure “bed” sores (pressure ulcers)
• Financial abuse/exploitation: Lack of amenities victim could afford • Vulnerable elder/adult “voluntarily” giving excessive financial reimbursement/gifts for care and companionship • Caregiver controls elder’s money but fails to provide for elder’s needs • Elder has signed property transfers (power of attorney, new will, etc.) but is unable to comprehend the transaction or what it means
• Psychological/emotional abuse: Unexplained or uncharacteristic changes in behavior, such as withdrawal from normal activities, unexplained changes in alertness • Caregiver isolates elder (doesn’t let anyone into the home or speak to the elder) • Caregiver is verbally aggressive or demeaning, controlling, or uncaring
• Physical/sexual abuse: Inadequately explained fractures, bruises, welts, cuts, sores or burns • Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
Under state law any doctor, nurse, social worker, police or fireman, therapist, home health worker or other professional who “has reasonable cause to believe” that an elder is suffering from abuse---must file a report, which can be taken on a 24/7 basis. But anyone who sees a “red flag” of abuse, should report their concerns to a protective services agency, or to the police in a life-threatening situation.
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