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Advocate Critiques Handling of Elder Abuse Suspicions

Forbes published a story recently that discusses how different communities respond to claims of elder abuse. While everyone understands that the problem is widespread and needs to be addressed, there are many different approaches to dealing with complaints. The author notes how some strategies are far more successful than others. He urges those involved to be proactive in their efforts and develop protocols which actually help seniors instead of allowing mistreatment slip through the cracks.

Pushing It Off On Others Doesn’t Work
For one thing, much mistreatment is never mentioned to anyone–seniors suffer in silence and wrongdoers get away with abuse. Fortunately, ever so slowly, more and more people are recognizing risk factors and reporting it to various authorities. But if those who receive the reports do not act appropriately, then the abuse can still go unresolved, even after someone spoke up.

The story shares one real life example to highlight this point. An 85-year old man lives at home with his elderly wife (who has her own vulnerabilities) and an adult son. The elderly man has very serious cancer and needs significant help to get by each day. The adult son is the senior’s primary caregiver. However, there are very serious worries about that care he is providing, because he is a heavy drinker, uses drugs, and has shown signs of behavioral issues. At one point, the son brings a handgun into the house. Another paid caregiver who provides part-time support grows very concerned about the senior’s care while living with the son.

Eventually that concerned caregiver contacted her home care agency to report her suspicions. That agency then contacts Adult Protective Services in the area. That office itself doesn’t do anything other than call the police department. Law enforcement officers are then sent to the house. The officers ask about the gun, it is denied, and the matter is ended without anything happening. In fact, the protective services group contacts the home care agency and tells them to call again when “something happens.”

It does not take much imagination to understand that this chain of events does little to protect seniors from possible harm. Instead, it seems destined only to deal with a problem after serious harm has occurred. Waiting until “something happens” is obviously waiting too long. The ultimate goal must be to actually prevent harm.

Be Proactive to Save Lives
Alternatively, a more aggressive approach to dealing with concerns about elder mistreatment can actually work to save lives and spare suffering. The story uses the example of New York City officials. When complaints are made a wide range of individuals are put on notice, including police officers, social workers, elder abuse attorneys, and other senior care advocates.

On top of that, steps are taken to procure alternative living arrangements for seniors who may need that as an option. For example, one nursing home in the city has an elder abuse branch that partners with various agencies to provide a myriad of services to vulnerable seniors. Those services might include quick medical care, legal help, and social service support. On top of that the facility runs an emergency shelter for seniors. As we discussed last week, these emergency shelters offer short term stays (one to three months) while seniors in tough situations are helped with alternative living arrangements. It is this comprehensive care that truly saves lives and prevents elder abuse.

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