In the United States, an elderly person is abused every five seconds. Whether at home or in a care facility, it is important to make sure your elderly loved ones are safe and protected. Dr. Kerry Burnight, Associate Professor in Geriatric Medicine at the University of California at Irvine’s College of Medicine, offers these tips:
How to Keep Elderly Loved Ones Safe
1. Plan Ahead
Use legal mechanisms, such as advance directives or power of attorney, to make sure your and your loved ones' finances are protected from family members who might take advantage or from scams targeting the elderly. This is equally important if you have a little or a lot. Know who you can trust, and who you can’t. Know where conflict spots are. Also, where there’s substance abuse or mental health problems, you’ve got to plan accordingly.
Do your research on nursing homes. Read reviews and ratings, and search for filed deficiencies and reports against the facility. Use the Nursing Home Compare on Medicare.gov, where nursing homes are rated using a five-star rating system. Take a tour of the facilities you're interested in and talk to residents and staff. Is there adequate staff to meet the needs of the residents? Ask a lot of questions.
2. Stay Connected
Avoid isolation — Research shows that it is one of the greatest risk factors for elder abuse. Elderly individuals who are ignored by their family are more likely to be targets. If your parent is in a nursing home, visit as often as possible and touch base often with phone calls. Consider offering to volunteer at the facility so you can get to know the staff and keep a watchful eye on your loved one.
3. Know the Signs
Watch for Red Flags of Abuse:
- Bruises on the neck, ears, bottom of feet and genitals — these don’t occur under normal care
- Pressure sores that are not being attended to
- Unexplained injuries: Broken bones, abrasions, burns
- Filth — matted hair, fecal matter
- Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness and unusual depression
- Weight loss and dehydration
- Unusual expenditures, changes in finances
4. Get Help
Abuse at Home:
Contact Adult Protective Services. APS receives and investigates reports on elder/vulnerable abuse and neglect cases. Once a report is received, APS is mandated to investigate the report. They go to the home to gain information and develop a case plan. They also partner with other professionals — law enforcement, physicians or mental health services — and will arrange emergency shelter, medical care, legal assistance and supportive services. Every county has an APS agency. You can visit the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) website, type in your county and state, and it will give you the direct contact number for the APS in your area.
Abuse in a Nursing Home:
Contact the long-term care ombudsman and state licensing. Report any elder abuse at the nursing home, whether it happened to your loved one or someone else. You can call the ElderCare Hot Line at (800) 677-1116 or call 911 for emergency support. The National Center on Elder Abuse has a list of state numbers that you can contact to report neglectful or abusive behavior to help protect your loved one and others.
If a crime has occurred, get law enforcement involved and be sure to follow up with their investigation.
Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect:
Here you can get more information to protect your parents — and yourself, since you're aging too.
People of all ages are uniting against elder abuse through Ageless Alliance. It gives us each a voice and practical information about what we can do. Our job, every one of us, is to say we won’t stand for this.