Preventing Elder Abuse and Neglect
When one is born into the world, they come as babies and from there start growing and developing through infancy, teen age, and adulthood. All these stages are determined by age. Adulthood is divided into two. Youth age (below 35 years) and then from there you grow and become an elder. As age continues catching up with you, you lose strength and much of your abilities are compromised. If you walk for ten miles, with time you find that you cannot make it because you weaken with age. Even the amount of weight you can lift and carry; the amount of work you do and a lot more, reduce with age. In fact, an old person is just like a child. The older you get, you kind of go back to childhood because the same weaknesses that a baby has are similar to those of an elderly adult. It is far too common for elderly people to suffer from abuse because there is a lot they cannot do on their own.
What is elder abuse and neglect?
Elder abuse refers to inflicting or causing any physical, sexual, emotional, and financial abuse, not to mention neglect and abandonment, to an elderly person. The elderly adults may be weak, and there are many activities they can no longer perform on their own because their bodies weaken with age. Furthermore, others could be ailing with terminal diseases like diabetes, arthritis, gout, asthma, or pain which is caused by injuries that they got when they were young. Others suffer from memory loss or senile dementia. If they do not have anyone to take care of them, they can be greatly exploited. To top it all, due to these weaknesses and diseases, they also become defenseless and therefore, they can be easily abused. While elder abuse involves the addition of inflicting pain, elder neglect involves withholding care, love, and basic necessities. If we have a dozen other priorities, then we may fall short in our caregiver responsibilities, and our actions may subsequentially unintentionally result in elder neglect.
How can you know that an elder is being abused and neglected?
Just like symptoms of diseases, you can know that an elder is being abused when you observe the following:
- Dirt – when you see an elder dressed in dirty clothes, and you also notice that they rarely bathe, know that they are neglected. Furthermore, when you see them dressed inappropriately particularly for the current weather, that is a sign of neglect. For instance, a senile person cannot know what kind of clothes they should wear during winter.
- Lack of hygiene – if you visit the home of an elder and find it disorganized, dirty, and untidy, you should know that they are neglected.
- Poor health – due to the delicate nature of the health and bodies of the elderly, they are prone to contracting diseases because their immunity is weak. Diseases have one common denominator: they bring about lack of appetite. You find that the elder eats little food and that makes them start getting emaciated. Others do not get their preferred diets and thus they grow thin due to underfeeding. In fact, their backs bend due to constant hunger.
- Lack of basic facilities and utilities – you may find that the home of an elderly person has no electricity, piped water, heating and cooling, and it has many breakages.
- Environment – you can find that the compound in the elder’s home is bushy and it has overgrown flowers, grass, weeds etc. The house is dusty, it has cobwebs, has a leaking roof, broken floor etc.
- Their perceptions – What they tell you about their sufferings including sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional. If physically or sexually abused, you will see burns, grazes, scratches, sore skin, wounds etc.
These are some of the important signals that you can easily spot and know that the elder is neglected or abused. Obviously, you cannot not expect an elder to clean, slash, repair, and wash on their own, particularly if they are poor or they have some disabilities.
Actionable plan to prevent elders from being abused and neglected:
We may unintentionally perform elder neglect, and this is why it is important to sometimes seek support from experienced and trained caregivers. If your loved one prefers to age in place, then you may consider companion care for support with meal preparation, housekeeping, errands, and emotional support. In the meantime, here are a few other considerations to prevent your elders from being abused and neglected.:
Avoid isolating elders
Evil people are great opportunists. They often take advantage of the isolation and seclusion of the elders. Owing to the fact that the elder is weak and defenseless and perhaps they are also sick and senile, the abuser will easily abuse or even kill them very easily. That is why an elderly adult should not be left alone, particularly if they live in the countryside on their own. Abusers are just like thieves or hunters; they often look for an opportunity to strike when you least expect them. Therefore, if there is no one else around, they will get into the house and abuse the elder. But when people know that the elder is always in company of someone else, no one will try to come and abuse them.
Keep monitoring their caregivers
People can be hypocritical and pretentious. Therefore, you may mistakenly entrust an elder to the wrong person and leave them in wrong hands. For example, if a senior care facility is understaffed, then expert caregivers at an adult family home could be seemingly unkind and you find that instead of taking good care of the elder, they neglect, or intentionally mistreat and abuse them. This is why it is so important to learn more about the caregiver qualifications of the staff, administration, and staff-to-resident ratio before trusting the care facility with ensuring the best care for your loved one. For instance, they do not feed them on time; and if the elder has incontinence and dirties their pants, you may find that the caregiver leaves them in the mess for long hours. They may also not attend the elder when the elder calls or when they are in need. Others may also feed the elder the wrong diet, fail to give them medicine on time, or leave the house and go away for long hours, leaving the elderly person alone. These unfaithful caregivers can deteriorate the delicate state of the elder by mistreating them. Worse still, some caregivers could be sexually abusing the elder, beating them, and torturing them in other ways. That is why they should be monitored even if it requires installing surveillance cameras.
Ensure that the elderly is fed with the right diet
Considering the fact that the health and immunity of the elder is weak and compromised, they need to be fed with the right diet and the right amount of food. When the elder is underfed or given an unbalanced diet, they will weaken very fast and eventually succumb. You should not take chances with the diet of the elder because it will definitely shorten their life. If they are suffering from terminal diseases like hypertension and diabetes, you should not feed them with what the doctor has told them not to eat. Moreover, if the doctor has prescribed them with a special diet, you should ensure that they eat it. In fact, they should take plenty of fruits and vegetables to ensure that their immunity is strengthened. If you prevent them from contracting diseases, you will not spend a lot on medical care. However, if they are not well fed, they will always be in and out of hospital regularly.
Follow up on their health
Due to the weak immunity of the elders, it goes without saying that they can fall sick at any time. Just like how a child often gets sick, the elders also get sick in like manner. You should keep on following up on their health; not only when they are sick but also by taking them for medical checkups in case there is an underlying disease. For instance, cancer grows overtime and it is always hidden. Eventually, it surfaces when it is grown beyond the treatable stage. By the time you are diagnosed with it, you have a very short time to live because of its malignant nature. That is why it is good to take the elder for medical checkup regardless of whether they are well or not. When you find an elder suffering from an untreated disease and they have not previously refused to go the hospital, know that they have been neglected. You should also ensure that they take the full dose of their medicine and take it on time. Moreover, if they have been told to be going for clinics, ensure that they comply.
Stay in touch with elders
Elders are often emotional because of their age. Some could be traumatized by some former phenomena like the veterans of war, retired soldiers, and victims of domestic violence. Others are traumatized by life events, such as divorce, loss of loved ones, and sicknesses like diabetes or the pain that they feel due to other diseases. When they are left alone, elderly adults could be bombarded by painful thoughts and emotions due to physical or emotional pain. Some of them also feel as if they are no longer needed and as if they have become a burden to their caregivers. That is why they should be given company; you chat with them, have fun, tell stories, and make them happy, feel wanted, needed, and appreciated. Involving them in family matters is also very important.
Keep elders active
Idleness is very destructive in old age. No wonder the sages said that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. When the elder is idle, they will be thinking and stressed because they start seeing their negative side of life. In fact, that is time when suicidal thoughts often come into the mind of an elderly senior. To avoid that, you should ensure that the elder remains active and occupied as much as possible. You just have to find ways of keeping them busy, active, and engaged. Furthermore, being physically active helps to keep them healthy. They can go walking instead of sitting in the house for the whole day. Moreover, TV and books, gardening, herding animals, art, music etc. are very effective in helping the elders to remain active.
Involve them in religious and community services
Many elderly senior citizens used to be former pros in different fields. In fact, some of them cherish and treasure their skills very much. Therefore, when they retire, get old, and start weakening, when they remember the exploits that they used to do during their heydays, they may feel disheartened because of their present condition. Therefore, they should be involved in religious and community services to know that they are valued and worthy. However, if you discriminate and sideline them, you will just add to their sorrows. Moreover, as the adage goes that, “old is gold,” these people are more experienced than younger adults. Therefore, they may advise you and share with you a piece of information that you do not know.
Do not leave elders in the wrong hands
Caregivers can turn out to be enemies. In fact, there are some who are wolves in sheep’s clothes. You may eventually find out that you have hired and entrusted a wolf to take care of an elder without knowing. Some of the dangerous people that you should never hire to take care of an elder include: temperamental people who can turn out to be abusive, drug addicts, rapists, and violent people. You should not take chances with them at all. They may start raping and sodomizing the elder who has been left under their care, although it is often impossible to know when someone is capable of doing this your elderly loved one. Always run background checks, including criminal checks, on any caregiver you are going to hire. If you are using local home care agencies to hire caregivers, they are generally required by law to run a background check on their home health aides. Some caregivers may deny the elderly the services they require and fail to give them what they need. Instead of taking care of the already delicate person, they mistreat, abuse, and deteriorate their condition. If you are not near, you may find that the elder has died because of the abuse they are inflicted with.
Take care of the elderly person’s financial welfare
Just like the abusers who torture the elders physically, sexually, and emotionally, others pretend to be very good so that they can be benefit from the elder. For instance, they can empty the bank account of the elder or steal the money which is kept at home, plus other valuables. In fact, others can even sell the entire properties of the elderly adult without them ever knowing it. That kind of financial exploitation can be very disheartening when the elder goes to do some bank transactions only to be hit by a rude shock and find that their bank account is empty or some funds are missing. Therefore, you should ensure that the money your elderly loved one has saved in the bank remains intact and all other transactions and investments are well taken care of. If the elder still has businesses, companies, and other money-generating endeavors, you should ensure that you closely monitor them and be transparent.
Ensure that their will is kept as is
If the elder has written a will, you should retain it intact without any alteration. There are people who can fraudulently alter an elderly adult’s will and allocate themselves part of the wealth and properties of the elder. This is equivalent to stealing, and you should never allow for this to happen.
Warn the elderly about fraudsters and scammers
Fraudsters are cunning and they often change their tactics. Moreover, they try to target the innocent and unsuspecting people to empty their pockets. Most of these old people do not know the tactics that the fraudsters use. Therefore, they easily fall prey to their unscrupulous and thievish treachery. You should orient and warn the elder against such people so that they do not get conned. Imagine if an elder who is over 80 years is scammed off their hard-earned cash, which they have lived to save for their lifetime. That would make them to succumb to stress within a fortnight. That is so much pain because they will have stolen the crown of the elder. Nowadays, phone and Internet scams are extremely common, so always warn your elderly loved one of the types of scams that they may be exposed to. Tell them that if they are ever contacted by anyone who tells them they won the lottery, owe money to the IRS, or get asked to send money to anyone for any reason, they should always tell you before they do anything else and they should never send any money to anyone they don’t know. As a good caregiver, you should warn the elder against the fraudsters and tell them never to transact with strangers.
Reporting elder abuse
When you realize that an elder is being abused, you should report that case to the authorities so that action can be taken against them. They could be your neighbors, relatives, or any other elder that you come across. When you find that they are abused in one way or the other, do not keep quiet. Report them straightaway to save the life of that elderly person. The elder will be removed from the care of that abuser and be kept under safe care and custody.
Offering elders proper care
If the elder has some kind of disability, they should be offered with the right aids like crutches, hearing aids, wheel chairs, spectacles etc. If you know the kind of disability or difficulty the elder has and then you neglect to address it, you are in fact abusing them. When they are supplied with all what they need, then they will be comfortable and they will age gracefully until their days on earth come to an end. Any caregiver ought to have passion for any elderly adult they are providing care for. Therefore, you should hire a caregiver who has compassion for the elder and passion for their job, because this job is challenging.
The elders should be treated with respect, care, gentleness, patience, and love. Without this, you will oftentimes start abusing them without even knowing it, particularly if you are impatient, temperamental, rude or uncompassionate. Due to their weaknesses, sufferings, senility, slowness or incoherence, you may become angry and even yell at them. The elder’s rights should always be given to them without any discrimination. You should look at them, see them and never overlook them out of pride or ignorance. They should get all their rights fully and on time just like any other person.
To put it all together, these are some of the considerations for how to detect elder abuse and prevent elder neglect. Apart from ensuring elderly seniors get all what they need, you should also treat them with love, and ensure that they feel needed, wanted, worthy, and valued. When all aspects of their lives are met, the elderly will live their lives to the fullest, and age and die gracefully. However, when they are neglected, abused, and discriminated, they will not live for long. Start doing everything you can today to prevent elderly abuse and neglect from taking place.
About the Author:
"Preventing Elder Abuse & Neglect | Recognizing Elderly Abuse" is authored by Anisha Rao, MPP, Healthcare Consultant, Certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Healthcare Professional. Anisha holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Health Administration and Public Policy, a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and a Minor in Management of Aging Services. Anisha has extensive experience in Healthcare Services and Aging issues, including dementia care, senior health, and nursing home care. Anisha is passionate about ensuring seniors receive the best care possible and empowering seniors to become more involved in their care planning decisions.