Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), and it pains me to think such a day is necessary. At United Nursing Services, our mission is to provide loving, compassionate care and to bring smiles to the faces of our elderly clients. It is hard for me to believe that anyone would intentionally do harm to an elderly person, but unfortunately, it happens. Research suggests that 4 to 6% of the elderly are subjected to some form of abuse, and most of it goes unreported. Abuse takes many forms, from simple neglect to financial exploitation and even physical or sexual violence. Our entire staff at UNS has been trained to look for signs of elder abuse and know that “if you see something, say something,” and we do not hesitate to get the authorities involved.
So WEAAD was launched on June 15, 2006, by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization. Today is the day that the entire world must raise their voices against elder abuse. Today I want to educate you on the signs of elder abuse, the types of abuse, what to do if you suspect abuse, and how to report it.
Signs of abuse:
- Financial problems-Unpaid bills, missing money, and if the person tells you that someone has offered them something huge in return for cash or if they pay out a large sum for a small service. These are all signs of financial exploitation, and they can come from family members, caregivers, and even outside scam artists who prey on the elderly.
- Changes in mood, personality, behavior and appetite-if you witness an abrupt change and the elder seems anxious, withdrawn, and depressed, it could be a sign of abuse.
- Unexplained Injuries-Cuts, bruises, a noticeable loss of mobility, or a “favoring” of a limb that can’t be explained by the onset of an illness or a fall could be signs of physical abuse.
- Weight loss and untreated medical conditions-not giving the elder proper nutrition or getting them needed medical care are signs of abuse by neglect.
Types of Abuse:
- Financial Exploitation-this includes unauthorized, illegal or improper use of the elder’s money and property.
- Neglect-Failure to provide basic needs or food, water, clothing, medical care, shelter and personal hygiene.
- Emotional Abuse-any behavior that causes emotional distress, such as verbal abuse, threats, name-calling, and isolation.
- Physical Abuse-any type of physical force that causes an injury or pain, such as slapping, hitting, kicking, pushing or shoving.
- Sexual Abuse-any type of sexual contact, improper touching or behavior that is forced or unwanted.
What to do if you suspect abuse:
- Look for signs of abuse-when you visit look for signs of emotional or physical abuse such as depression, unexplained weight loss, a new lingering illness, cuts, bruised and even burns.
- Talk to the Abused-if they can communicate, ask directly if they are being harmed. Reassure them that you are there for them and will do everything you can to protect them and get them the help that they need to escape the abuse. Do not be surprised if it takes a few times to get them to open up.
Where to report abuse and get help in Palm Beach County:
- Florida Abuse Hotline – 1-800=962-2873. This 24-hour hotline is staffed by trained professionals who can help you to report the abuse.
- Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office – 561-688-3111. The sheriff’s office has a special unit that investigates elder abuse cases.
- Palm Beach County Department of Children and Family- 561-833-7200. This department is responsible for protecting vulnerable adults, including the elderly.
When reporting elder abuse, be sure to have the full name of the elder, the name of the suspected abuser, and the location of the abuse. You may also be asked to give details on the type of abuse, the frequency, and any injuries sustained. You can report the abuse anonymously and only give your name if you choose to do so. What is important here is that you take the first step to get help for the victim.
You can also use these resources to learn more about elder abuse:
- Florida Department of Elder Affairs
- National Center on Elder Abuse
- Elder Justice Coalition
Our elderly population should be looked at as a gift. Our connection to the past and a source of wisdom. We must all play a role in ensuring they live out their years with dignity, healthy, happy, and free from abuse. Please join me in “celebrating.” World Elder Abuse Awareness Day by vowing that you will never turn away when you suspect elderly abuse and that you will act!
Protect Our Elders,