How to identify, report elder abuse and neglect, and raise awareness to end these tragic cases
It’s hard to imagine that anyone would deliberately want to harm an elderly person — senior citizens, after all, are some of our frailest and most vulnerable citizens. Yet, elder abuse and neglect is a widespread problem.
California sees more than 175,000 cases of reported elder abuse cases each year, according to Kern County Aging & Adult Services. And officials estimate that for every case known to reporting agencies, 24 cases go unreported.
For Elder Abuse Awareness Month, Chain | Cohn | Clark would like to draw attention to this problem and provide facts, prevention tips, vital resources, and other information to help reduce neglect and abuse (World Elder Abuse Awareness Day this year takes place June 15). The law firm has been at the forefront in fighting for victims of elder abuse and neglect in Bakersfield, Kern County and throughout the state.
Read below to learn more about elder abuse and neglect, and how we can work together to bring these cases to an end.
WHAT IS ELDER ABUSE / NEGLECT
Some instances of elder abuse are intended to exploit the person financially, including scams targeting seniors. In other cases, it’s simple negligence: Caregivers don’t provide the basic necessities, like nutritious food, appropriate medication, safety, or assistance with hygiene. Abuse can include physical, emotional, financial, abandonment, isolation, and neglect.
Here are five facts about elder abuse:
- Elder abuse instances happen mostly in the home where the senior lives.
- One in every 10 elder adults experience some form of abuse in their lifetime.
- The most common form of abuse is financial exploitation and extortion.
- In around 90% of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member.
- Only one of every six instances of elder abuse and neglect is reported.
The purpose of elder abuse awareness is to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed neglect and abuse tragedies in elder care and nursing home throughout the United States, including in Kern County. Local skilled nursing facilities experienced COVID-19 outbreaks that affected staff and residents alike. During the pandemic, Kern County Department of Public Health requested immediate help with staffing shortages at Kingston Health Care Facility in Bakersfield, and healthcare professionals throughout the state were sent to assist the facility.
A report by media agency Al Jazeera English highlighted how an elder care system already in crisis imploded under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic. The coverage included an interview with Chain | Cohn | Clark attorney Matt Clark, an elder abuse and neglect lawyer.
REPORTING ELDER ABUSE, NEGLECT
So why does elder abuse go unreported? Many times, elders have no family to report to. They also fear retaliation from “caregivers,” or they feel shame in regards to abuse. Another reason is they fear they will lose independence, or fear they will upset their own family members. Many times, however, victims simply lack understanding of how to report abuse.
Another issue lies is recognizing elder abuse and neglect. In fact, elder abuse can take many forms including:
- Physical abuse: Inflicting physical pain or injury on a senior (slapping, bruising or restraining by physical or chemical means).
- Sexual Abuse: Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
- Neglect: The failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder.
- Exploitation: The illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit.
- Emotional Abuse: Inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts (humiliating, intimidating, or threatening).
- Abandonment: Desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
- Self-neglect: Characterized as the failure of a person to perform essential, self-care tasks and that such failure threatens his/her own health or safety.
So, how do you recognize elder abuse and neglect, and what are the warning signs. Here are a few of them:
- Bruises, broken bones, abrasions and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect or mistreatment.
- Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
- Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
- Sudden changes in financial situations.
- Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene and unusual weight loss.
- Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
- Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person.
- If you notice changes in a senior’s personality or behavior, you should start to question what is going on.
It’s important to alert others if you have suspicions, and to retain an attorney. In an emergency, call 9-1-1. To report cases of elder abuse, whether it is on your own behalf or that of someone you know, please call Adult Protective Services as part of the Kern County Aging & Adult Services, or contact the Long-Term Care Ombudsman.
- Adult Protective Services responds to reports from individuals, concerned citizens, social service and health providers, and law enforcement representatives about developmental disabled adults, physically and mentally disabled adults, and the elderly who may be physically or financially abused, neglected, or exploited. Upon receipt of a referral, APS sends a social worker to make a home visit or contact the elder or dependent adult.
- 24-Hour Hotline: 800-277-7866 or 661-868-1006
- Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program investigates elder abuse complaints in long-term care facilities and in residential care facilities for the elderly. The primary responsibility of the program is to investigate and endeavor to resolve complaints made by, or on behalf of, individual residents in these facilities, including nursing homes, residential care facilities for the elderly, and assisted living facilities. The goal of the program is to advocate for the rights of all residents in long term care.
- Phone: 661-323-7884
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Know the symptoms of abuse: Bedsores, bruises, or chafing could indicate that your loved one is being restrained to a bed or wheelchair, or otherwise physically abused. If he or she has recently lost weight, malnutrition or dehydration could be at play, while poor hygiene is also an indicator of possible abuse. Watch, too, for changes in the person’s mood; if they seem depressed, anxious, agitated, or listless, see if you can discover why. In short, any changes to an elder’s behavior, disposition or physical condition could be cause for concern.
If you suspect something, say something: If you do detect signs of abuse, document them. Take pictures of bruises or injuries, get a statement from the victim or any witnesses, and keep a log of any suspicious behavior or circumstances. You can then address your concerns with the manager or director of the long-term care facility or home care provider; if they do not take action, contact the police or an elder abuse attorney.
Spread the word with social media: There really is no better way to get the word out and foster awareness than through social platforms. Share informational articles and use the hashtag #WEAAD.
If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Clark by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.