As our parents age and begin to face medical issues, caregivers, paid and family members, often become an important part of their lives, assisting with everything from food shopping to medication administration.
Unfortunately, sometimes this dependency can leave our parents vulnerable to abuse. One to two million reports of elderly and vulnerable adult abuse are made every year in the United States. However, the real number of victims is even higher because most cases are not reported.
The Jewish community is not immune. “We were beginning to see older adults experiencing abuse, and we realized that there wasn’t a crisis intervention approach for the elderly in the Jewish community,” says Nancy Aiken, director, CHANA Baltimore.
CHANA Baltimore has provided crisis intervention, education, and consultation for victims of abuse for 20 years. SAFE: Stop Abuse for Elders, a program of CHANA, provides prevention education, counseling, legal advocacy, and if needed, a temporary shelter.
“The beauty of this program is that we are linking three agencies in a coordinated way to help vulnerable older adults who are experiencing abuse,” adds Elaine Kitt, senior manager, service coordination of Jewish Community Services (JCS).
What is elder abuse?
Abuse of an older person can come from a paid caretaker or from someone you thought you trusted, like another family member or neighbor. The abuse may not only be physical, but can also include verbal and emotional abuse such as yelling, name calling or neglect. In addition, there are a number of instances when caretakers financially abuse an older person, taking or misusing his or her money.
As a child, what should you look
There are certain telltale signs that a parent or other loved one is being abused — some are obvious like the bruises from physical abuse — but others are more subtle.
You should be concerned if a caretaker puts up obstacles when you try to visit. “If you don’t have complete and total access to a parent, and if a caretaker is telling you that you don’t have to come — we are fine — then you should be concerned,” said Ellen Loy, director, SAFE: Stop Abuse of Elders.
When visiting or calling, always ask your parent how things are. You can get a sense of what’s going on from the conversation. If a parent is uncomfortable talking because a caretaker is nearby, find a time to call or stop by when the caretaker is not in.
While at your parent’s home, if you note that the house is in disarray or there is no food in the refrigerator, there is room for concern. In addition, notice if any medication is missing. “One underreported issue is family members or paid caregivers taking drugs for medical reasons or to sell them,” said Loy. The result is seniors don’t receive their appropriate treatment.
“If you feel something isn’t right, follow your instincts. There is a good chance it isn’t,” Loy added.
If you are concerned, what should you do?
First and foremost, if you are concerned, call the SAFE helpline at 410-234-0030. CHANA will coordinate intake and counseling, determining if a family mediator is needed to navigate an issue, or if there is abuse involved. For example, families might need help resolving problems if siblings disagree, like whether a parent should stay at home or go to an assisted living facility. The mediator may determine abuse is involved and suggest appropriate solutions such as counseling the victim, to prosecuting the perpetrator, as well as providing safe shelter, if necessary.
In addition, JCS may assist in locating and obtaining needed resources,, such as finding an apartment where the individual wouldbe able to live safely and as independently as possible in the community.
If an older adult who is being abused has nowhere else to go, Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Baltimore will provide a virtual shelter — a place to stay. “We specialize in working with older adults so we understand the special needs of this community,” says Michelle Mills, director of Adult Day Services, Levindale. SAFE will work with the individual and family to identify a safe place.
This content was originally published on www.theassociated.org.
By Rochelle Eisenberg
If you are concerned that someone you love may be experiencing elder abuse, call the SAFE: Stop Abuse of Elders helpline at 410-234-0030. Learn more at chanabaltimore.org.