For this last post of June, I wanted to circle back on the importance of raising awareness of elder abuse. You can read the Presidential Proclamation on June 15, 2016, for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day right here and if you’re curious about the language of the Elder Justice Act, passed as part of the Affordable Care Act (as Title VI subtitle H, §§6701 et seq.), read this link.
In Colorado, as in nearly all other states, adult protection units are responsible for the reporting and investigation (along with law enforcement agencies) of elder abuse. The Elder Justice Act is federal legislation which requires the U.S Department of Health and Human Services “to oversee the development and management of federal resources for protecting out seniors from elder abuse.” Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice is charged with taking action to prevent elder abuse.
The effective coordination of these county, state and federal efforts is of course a work in progress. What we do know about raising awareness of elder abuse and exploitation is that it will lead to more reporting of such abuse. Here is a link to a recent article in the Sacramento Bee which links the raised awareness of such abuse to a dramatic increase in reports to local law enforcement. This is important to bear in mind as the baby boomers begin to become a greater proportion of the cohort affected by elder abuse and exploitation. In my practice, I have unfortunately become familiar with national and international internet scams which relieve elders of their hard-earned retirement money. This is a particular area in which the federal government might play a unique role as so much of our law of the internet is based in federal law.
Another tragic side effect of the victimization of elders, besides the shame, victimization and impoverishment which results from financial exploitation is that these elders, along with elder victims of all types of elder abuse – including physical and sexual abuse – are likely to die much sooner than their peers who were not victimized. But many pieces of this puzzle remain unidentified due to the lack of long term studies which collect valuable statistics about elder abuse of various types! This is of course another aspect of the importance of raising awareness. Because so much of elder abuse still remains unreported, this is a major quality of life challenge not just for elders and their loved ones and community, but also for those of us of “a certain age” who might be looking forward to a safe and meaningful elderhood. How can we make things better for elders at risk now and in the future?
What is elder abuse and who are its primary victims of such elder abuse? By the numbers, they are largely women and the “old” of the elder population – meaning folks over 80. Sadly, the vast majority of the abusers are family members of the elder or trusted friends or advisors. Because most elders live in the community – not in institutions – this is a particular challenge for all of us who are community members to become familiar with the signs so that we can report concerns about safety, suspicious behaviors and the like to local law enforcement.
First – what are the kinds of elder abuse that we’re talking about? Here is a helpful listing from the U.S. government’s Administration on Aging website, which also has many helpful resources:
- Physical Abuse—inflicting physical pain or injury on a senior, e.g. slapping, bruising, or restraining by physical or chemical means.
- Sexual Abuse—non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
- Neglect—the failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder.
- Exploitation—the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit.
- Emotional Abuse—inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts, e.g. humiliating, intimidating, or threatening.
- Abandonment—desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
- Self-neglect—characterized as the failure of a person to perform essential, self-care tasks and that such failure threatens his/her own health or safety.
And what about the warning signs of elder abuse which we can be more aware of?
- Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment.
- Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
- Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
- Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
- Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
- Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
- Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also signs.
- Changes in the elder’s personality or behavior, especially if the elder becomes withdrawn or despondent, questions to her or him can be very important in identifying a situation which may be the cause of the elder’s silent suffering.
Lastly, here is another helpful self-help resource specifically for Colorado residents – from Colorado Legal Services. That’s all for now – but don’t forget . . . . Denver’s Senior law Day is coming up on Friday July 29, 2016 and will be held at the Denver Police Protective Association’s Event Center. More details later.
© Barbara E. Cashman 2016 www.DenverElderLaw.org