Senior Beat: Defining and preventing senior abuse
By Carol Higgins Taylor
Special to The Weekly
June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It’s an important reminder that every year, approximately 33,000 Maine elders are abused or taken advantage of, usually by a trusted family member.
Seniors often will consider that they “have been taken advantage of” more than saying they have been abused, but in reality it is the same thing. And for seniors who have experienced or are currently experiencing abuse, the fears of reporting it and actually talking about it are vast and varied.
The senior doesn’t want their family member, who may also be a caregiver, to go to jail. 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. Many are embarrassed that their loved ones could do such a thing.
Elder abuse includes physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse and neglect. Sometimes elder abuse is domestic violence grown old. Latest reports show that 90-percent of the cases are at the hands of a family member who is exploiting and abusing older people for personal gain.
Here are some red flags of elder abuse:
-Sudden changes in the elder’s appearance: poor hygiene, improper clothing for the weather, sunken eyes, bedsores, loss of weight.
-Sudden changes in the elder’s personality; increased levels of anxiety, fearfulness and/or depression.
-Social isolation or the elder not allowed visitors.
-Visible injury that hasn’t been cared for or can’t be explained with a realistic explanation.
-Sudden inability to meet financial obligations.
-Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness may be indicators of emotional abuse.
There are some things you can do to protect yourself and your assets and independence:
-Always talk to a lawyer before making the following major, possibly life changing decisions:
-Don’t let anyone persuade you or pressure you into signing away your home, even if this person promises you that you can live there for the rest of your life.
-Be very careful of giving anyone access to your credit card or your check book. There are many cases where this is perfectly fine and works out to the senior’s advantage because the family member can do the shopping or pay the bills. But when it goes wrong, it can be devastating.
-Don’t let anyone pressure you or persuade you to sign legal papers without talking to a lawyer. This is for both party’s protection. Legal papers include co-signing on a loan, or signing a Power of Attorney. Be wary if someone balks at getting an attorney involved. Good intentions stand up to scrutiny.
The National Center on Elder Abuse website, www.ncea.acl.gov, suggests ways to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of elder abuse.
-Stay busy and engaged in life. Try not to become isolated. Cultivate a strong support network of family and friends.
-Take good care of yourself, for life. Declining health can make a person more vulnerable to abuse because of the increasing dependence.
-Be aware of the link to addiction problems. People who drink too much or who use other drugs are at a high risk of being abusive. Reach out to support groups.
Assert your right to be treated with dignity and respect, be clear about what you will and won’t tolerate, and set boundaries. Trust your instincts and listen to your inner voice if it tries to warn you if something isn’t right. And above all, if you need help, ask for it.
Legal Services for the Elderly can provide you with free, confidential legal help. Call them at 1-800-750-5353. To learn more about elder abuse, visit www.mainelse.org or the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention website at www.elderabuseprevention.info.
Carol Higgins Taylor is an advocate for seniors and owns Bryant Street Public Relations in Bangor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.