No one really knows for certain how many adults are victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation because very few cases are identified. It is estimated that 2 million older adults are mistreated each year in the U.S. and that 5 of 6 cases are not reported.
Let’s define what we mean by abuse, neglect and exploitation:
- Abuse can be physical, emotional or sexual.
- Neglect can mean someone is not taking care of themselves or not taking good care of someone else.
- Exploitation is when someone takes advantage of someone else financially or sexually.
- Abandonment occurs when a person is left by others and support is no longer provided. For example, an elderly person enters the hospital but the family cannot be reached to take them back home. We would say the person was abandoned at the hospital by the family.
Elder abuse can occur anywhere – in the home, nursing home or other institutions. It can affect the elderly across all socioeconomic groups, cultures and races. Women and “older” elders are more likely to be victims. People who have dementia or live alone and isolated from others are at even higher risk of some form of mistreatment. As you see, anyone can be a victim. However, there things we can do to protect ourselves and those we love from abuse, neglect and exploitation.
Step 1: PLAN
- Talk with your family, friends and professionals that you trust to develop a plan for your future.
- Have income direct deposited.
- Consider allowing someone you trust to assist you with daily finances if this becomes difficult to manage.
- Begin advance care planning that includes identifying a health care surrogate and creating documents such as a living will and a durable power attorney.
Step 2: BE CAUTIOUS
- Be aware that seniors and vulnerable populations are being targeted by people that want to take advantage of them.
- Reduce telemarketing calls by getting on the National Do Not Call Registry.
- If you “win a prize” that sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.
- Before you sign contracts or documents that you don’t completely understand, consult with an attorney or someone that you trust to review them with you.
- Don’t be pressured to make large purchases or to make immediate decisions. Take time to consult with someone to help you decide if this is a safe decision.
- Do not provide personal information over the phone unless you initiate the call.
- Shred and destroy all forms of paper that have personal information before placing in the trash where others may find it.
- Make sure that anyone that is hired to come into your home has been properly screened (such as a criminal background check).
Step 3: STAY CONNECTED WITH OTHERS
- Keep in touch with your family and friends on a regular basis.
- Find someone who will call on you or your loved one each day to make sure all is OK. Consider creating a buddy system with this person and check on each other daily.
- Stay busy and get involved with community or church groups.
Step 4: REPORT
- If you see an instance of abuse or neglect occurring, don’t be afraid to call and report what you see or suspect.
- The elderly and other vulnerable populations have the right to be safe.
- In case of emergency you can call 911.
- If you or someone you love is experiencing some form of mistreatment, call adult protective services for help.
- Call the long-term care ombudsman if mistreatment is occurring in a nursing home.
For more information on this and similar topics, check out The National Center on Elder Abuse.