Elder abuse is a difficult and complex topic that needs more than a 500 word blog post to address fully. However, a few highlights will help to at least identify the issues and how you may be able to assist someone you may suspect is the victim of abuse.
Elder Abuse Can Take Many Forms
Elder abuse can occur in many forms, involving a range of physical, psychological, sexual and financial abuse and neglect. The difficult piece is that in most cases elder abuse is invisible. It occurs within the trusted confines of family, friends, neighbors, care givers and care facilities. It also exploits people who may be frail and vulnerable, as well as physically and mentally compromised. An older person who mails thousands of dollars to sweepstakes companies over the course of several months thinking they have been selected out of hundreds of thousands of people to win the “Grand Prize” is a good example of financial exploitation that operates well under the radar screen of financial abuse. Most elderly people who send in their money like this are convinced the sweepstakes are legitimate, so they themselves do not see the abuse.
Elder abuse can also take the form of someone who simply can no longer care adequately for themselves due to a diminishment in their physical and mental capabilities. They begin neglecting themselves and their living environment. For instance, you may find an elderly neighbor who at one time kept her home immaculate is now living in squalor conditions with rotting food in the refrigerator or in the pantry.
Look for a Change in Life Style
A negative change in a person's life style is a good indicator that the person is struggling to get by. Their intentions may be to maintain the status quo, but they lack the ability and insight to do so. This can happen due to a change in the person's physical and/or mental status, as well as a consequence of a change in their support system, such as the death of a spouse, the arrival of a dependent adult child or grandchild, or the loss of a necessary support service. A support system for an older person may be very precarious to begin with, so any deviation to that system, even something relatively slight, can have a material impact on how the person lives.
Undue Influence is a Form of Elder Abuse
Another form of elder abuse that is hard to detect is undue influence. A person does not need to be incapacitated mentally to be the subject of undue influence. In fact, many otherwise intelligent and assertive people can still be the victim of another person's undue influence if there is an underlying feeling of fear or reprisal or intimidation if the older person does not comply with the demands of the abuser. You see this often in family settings where the abuser is the care giver who threatens to withhold help or aid or funds if the victim does not do what they say. Usually this involves giving the person money or making them Power of Attorney or putting them in their will to get a sizable bequest.
There is Government Help for a Person You Suspect is Being Abused
If you suspect an elderly person is being abused or is neglecting themselves due to some type of vulnerability, you may consider contacting the county Adult Protective Services (APS). Each county has an APS an office. The mission of APS is to investigate allegations of elder abuse and take necessary action to stop the abuse or self-neglect. If the person about whom you are concerned is living in a care facility, you may want to consider contacting the New Jersey Office of the Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly. The Ombudsman's office is part of a national resident-focused advocacy program that seeks to protect the health, safety, welfare, and civil and human rights of older individuals in institutions.
Please Do Not Turn a Blind Eye
Elder abuse is ubiquitous and a challenge to address, but it is very important for people who see it to do something about it. Unless those looking in from the outside do something, nothing will get done to stop the abuse and the suffering will continue. Elders who are diminished physically or mentally have no voice and can only rely on the goodness of others to help and protect them.
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