As with child abuse and domestic violence many years ago, elder abuse is a problem that has been in the shadows for too long. There are roughly 14,000 cases in Maine annually, 80 percent of which go unreported.
June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. But each day that a senior is abused is one day too many. And for seniors being abused, the fears of reporting it and actually talking about it are vast and varied.
“The Department of Justice reports 90 percent of abuse is perpetrated by a family member or caregiver, and the victim doesn’t want that person, their abuser, to go to jail,” said Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging. “Or some seniors have no one else to care for them and are fearful that if the family member leaves, they will have to go to a nursing home. And many are embarrassed that their loved ones could do such a thing.”
This is a topic that needs to be discussed in families. The goal of the aging industry is to heighten awareness and provide education which ultimately would bring elder abuse and elder domestic violence out of the darkness.
It is important to note that domestic violence doesn’t end at age 60, she added. It just changes its face and becomes elder abuse which adds some interesting facets to the issue itself.
Elder abuse can arise out of many circumstances. For instance a spouse who becomes a caregiver may begin abusing out of frustration and fear. Or the spouse may become neglectful out of ignorance, for example not turning a bedridden partner to prevent pressure sores. There may be no malicious intent but it is abusive nonetheless.
“Fifteen percent of all cases investigated include some form of financial exploitation,” said Maurer. “Seniors can also be exploited sexually and emotionally. We live in a high-tech, fast-paced world and our seniors have been set aside. This mentality makes them a prime target for abuse and financial exploitation is the crime of the 21st century.”
The National Center on Elder Abuse offers the following as warning signs of elder abuse:
• Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may indicate physical abuse neglect, or mistreatment.
• Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
• Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
• Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
• Behavior, such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
It’s M4A’s goal, along with the area agencies on aging, to provide continuing education and greater public awareness of the problem. On-going outreach to seniors and open and honest communication about elder abuse with all Maine communities can bring it out of the shadows, we hope will help put an end to this heinous occurrence.
“Abuse has a devastating impact on lives,” said Maurer. “And seniors who have been mistreated are three times more likely to die in the next decade.”
If you have a cause to suspect that elder abuse is happening to someone you know, call Adult Protective Services at 1-800-624-8404 or Legal Services for the Elderly at 1-800-750-5353. All calls are confidential. Elder abuse and domestic violence are not acceptable and cannot be tolerated under any circumstances. It will take all of us but together we can save our seniors.
Make the call if you suspect elder abuse. You could be a senior’s only chance of safety.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. E-mail Higgins Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free (800) 432-7812, e-mail email@example.com or log on EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.