There are different types of elder abuse, including physical, emotional, financial, or sexual abuse, as well as neglect and abandonment. In the words of the National Center on Elder Abuse, physical abuse involves inflicting, or threatening to inflict, physical pain or injury on a vulnerable elder, or depriving them of a basic need. By this definition—and by standards of human decency.
Many health professionals have a legal obligation (mandated reporters) to report abuse or suspected abuse and so do regular citizens in many states. Apart from the law, we all have a moral duty to protect vulnerable adults from abuse and I encourage you to report your concerns.
The National Center on Elder Abuse says you do not need to prove that abuse is occurring; it is up to the professional staff in the agency to investigate your suspicions. When making the call to APS or police, you will be asked to give the name, address and contact information of the person you believe is being abused or neglected. You will also be asked to explain why you are concerned. You will be asked for your name, address, number, etc., but most states will take the report even if you do not identify yourself. No one is allowed to share your information with the alleged abuser or the victim.
According to the Institute on Aging, knowing when to report perceived elder abuse can seem difficult to be absolutely sure of. You may feel as if the guidelines are subjective, especially when family members are involved in the potential abuse. But remember that everyone’s right to fair treatment and a life free from abuse and neglect is not subjective. If you become aware of or even suspect elder abuse or neglect, it’s always good to reach out through the proper channels and ensure that the older adult does not continue to be put in harm’s way.
The California Department of Justice reminds us “Abuse can continue and often escalates if there is no intervention. Known or suspected cases of abuse should be reported to the appropriate agencies in your area. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and report.” If you find that an older adult is in need of immediate medical care, call 9-1-1 right away; get them the direct care they need, then proceed with reporting the related elder abuse. To report you can call the local APS (Adult Protective Services) in Sonoma County at (800) 667-0404.
Here are 7 types of elder abuse to watch for:
Abandonment: The desertion of an elder by someone who is a caregiver.
Abduction: The removal, without the consent of the conservator, of a conservatee to another state.
Financial Abuse: The wrongful taking or use of an elder’s funds, property, or other assets.
Isolation: The intentional prevention of an elder from receiving mail, telephone calls or visitors.
Mental Suffering: The infliction of fear, agitation, or confusion through threats, harassment or other forms of intimidating behavior.
Neglect: A caregiver’s failure to assist in an elder’s personal hygiene, failure to provide food, clothing or shelter, or protect an elder from health and safety hazards.
Physical Abuse: The infliction of physical pain or injury, sexual assault or molestation, or the use of physical or chemical restraints for punishment.
By reporting the abuse of an aging adult in crisis you may be their best and only opportunity to recovery and make them safe from the threat of future mistreatment. It is every aging adult’s right to a life free from fear and unnecessary suffering. Whether the abuse has been happening within the family or by strangers—whether the harm has been physical, emotional, material, or some combination of these, which often is the case—you hold the important responsibility to report what you know or suspect. Your actions could be the turning point for an aging loved one’s or neighbor’s condition of life or perhaps life itself. Don’t let fear of meddling stop you from reporting your concerns.
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.