If you were told that there was a major problem in the United States that affected more than one in ten individuals, would you be concerned? If you knew that there were more than 2.5 million people who were victims of a particular type of crime each year, would you think, “That is a serious problem that needs to be addressed?”
One would think that numbers that staggering would merit some attention, particularly when you recognize that the individuals suffering are all in one age group — individuals over the age of 65. Elder abuse is a large and growing problem in our society and the most likely to be victims are not only the most vulnerable, they are the age cohort that is growing the fastest: those over 85.
Elder abuse is, by definition, intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or trusted individual that lead to, or potentially lead to, harm of a vulnerable elder. We are not talking about a random act or a scam that is perpetrated on older adults but rather acts that are most often committed at the hands of a family member, most often a child or grandchild.
Abuse of older adults may be physical, sexual, financial, verbal, emotional and/or psychological. It can include neglect, which may mean that an individual’s care or physical needs are unmet or ignored. Almost without exception, financial abuse is an element of elder abuse.
What does elder abuse look like? It’s a woman who has been physically battered by her daughter; a man whose son was his power of attorney and who emptied all of his bank accounts and now does not answer his phone; a man who is no longer allowed to make decisions for himself and fully participate in the active life he once knew. There is no happy ending for most of these people — their situation goes unrecognized and unreported; they are afraid or ashamed to ask for help; they are not believed if they do seek assistance, often simply because of their age.
Elder abuse is certainly a form of domestic violence. The system of domestic violence shelters meets a vital need but it does not work for our older adults — caring for an 80-year-old in a shelter full of young families in not optimal. Older adults have different needs in almost every respect and the help they need may be different — medically, nutritionally, legally and socially.
The Jewish Home Family has joined the ranks of eleven other long term care facilities in the country to open and offer an elder abuse shelter. SeniorHaven for Elder Abuse Prevention officially opened on July 28, 2015.
SeniorHaven offers safe haven for individuals over 65 who are victims of abuse. It is a virtual shelter which means that a victim may be housed anywhere within our system or with other partner facilities, all based upon the needs of the victim and the availability of appropriate housing.
The victims may stay for 90 to 120 days with planning for discharge to the least restrictive alternative beginning immediately on admission.
While in the shelter, victims receive medical and nursing care, therapy and nutrition services as needed as well as spiritual care, social services and legal assistance. There is no charge for these services; we provide them because we believe it is our obligation to older adults and to our community. Equally important, SeniorHaven provides us with a platform for educating our community — both professionals and the general public.
You can help end elder abuse. Be alert to older adults whose pattern changes, who become socially isolated, who have unexplained injuries or sudden social isolation. If there are older adults in your life, ask them questions when they are alone. Be alert to when an account of an injury is different from caregiver to elder. Believe them and don’t write them off because of their age. Educate yourselves and educate others. Our older adults deserve respect and quality of life — help them to find it.