We love to read heartwarming stories about devoted caregivers and thriving seniors. When we look at seniors who are well cared for, we think, “Of course – that’s the way it should be.”
Unfortunately, the good stories don’t tell the whole tale of senior care in the United States. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), 1 out of 10 seniors is a victim of abuse. What’s more, elder abuse is typically underreported. The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study estimates that only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse ever comes to the attention of authorities.
Here, NCEA Deputy Director Julie Schoen offers tips on how to intervene in cases of suspected elder abuse.
What Is Elder Abuse?
“Elder abuse takes many forms,” says Schoen. The major categories of mistreatment include physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect, and abandonment. Elder abuse can happen at the hands of a trusted friend or family member (domestic abuse), or it can be perpetrated by caregivers at a senior care facility (institutional abuse).
If you believe that your loved one has been a victim of elder abuse – domestic or institutional – you need to report the abuse to the proper authorities.
Reporting Elder Abuse
If your senior loved one has been a victim of domestic abuse, contact Adult Protective Services (APS) immediately. “APS will take a report, contact the alleged victim, verify safety, and provide assistance,” says Schoen. Locate the APS office in your state here.
If the abuse is occurring in assisted living, a nursing home, or other long-term care facility, contact an ombudsman rather than APS. “Every licensed facility has a long-term care ombudsman assigned to the facility,” says Schoen. “Contact the ombudsman immediately to state your concerns.”
When filing a report, it’s important to gather all the information you can, explains Schoen. Include who was involved, what the circumstances were, when it happened, and where it occurred.
In addition, don’t be afraid to go to the police. “Filing a police report is always beneficial, as then you have a report that was filed in real time and may be useful for any future prosecutions,” she says.
However, Schoen understands that people may be afraid that reporting the abuse could make matters worse for their loved one. That’s why the authorities work in strict confidentiality.
“Your report is confidential and retaliation concerns should be minimized,” she assures. “The goal is to ensure that the victim is protected at all costs.”
And by filing a report, she says, you can push for a restraining order or change of residence.
Elder Abuse Denial
Another barrier to getting help is when your loved one denies that he or she is being abused. If that happens and your loved one has capacity, the authorities cannot provide services because they must respect the senior’s right to self-determination, says Schoen. But even in those cases, she adds that you can still contact the ombudsman or APS to request a “wellness check.”
Understandably, if your loved one has suffered abuse, your family may be longing to leave the incidents in the past and move on. Intervening isn’t easy, particularly when the abuse is occurring at home.
“Cases involving family members or caregivers are especially difficult due to the emotional aspects,” acknowledges Schoen. “Oftentimes, people just want the problem fixed but they are not willing to prosecute. This makes assisting them very difficult.”
Just like any other type of abuse, elder abuse cannot be swept under the rug. Elder abuse is a crime, says Schoen – and it must be treated as such.