As our parents age and begin to face medical issues, caregivers, paid and family members, often become an important part of their lives, assisting with everything from food shopping to medication administration.
Unfortunately, sometimes this dependency can leave our parents vulnerable to abuse. In this country, each year one to two million reports of elderly and vulnerable adult abuse are made. However, the real number of victims is even higher because most cases are not reported.
The Jewish community is not immune. “We were beginning to see older adults experiencing abuse, and we realized that there wasn’t a crisis intervention approach for the elderly in the Jewish community,” says Nancy Aiken, director, CHANA.
This month, CHANA, Jewish Community Services (JCS) and the Levindale Geriatric Center, launched the first Jewish response to elder abuse in the community. SAFE: Stop Abuse for Elders will provide prevention education, counseling, legal advocacy, and if needed, a temporary shelter.
“The beauty of this program is that we are linking three agencies in a coordinated way to help vulnerable older adults who are experiencing abuse,” adds Elaine Kitt, senior manager, service coordination of JCS.
What is elder abuse?
Abuse of an older person can come from a paid caretaker or from someone you thought you trusted, like another family member or neighbor. Not only might it be physical, but it can also include verbal and emotional abuse, such as yelling or name calling, as well as neglect. In addition, there are a number of instances when caretakers financially abuse an older person, taking or misusing his or her money.
As a child, what should you look out for?
There are certain telltale signs that a parent or other loved one is being abused – some are obvious like the bruises from physical abuse - but others are more subtle.
You should be concerned if a caretaker puts up obstacles when you try to visit. “If you don’t have complete and total access to a parent, and if a caretaker is telling you that you don’t have to come — we are fine — then you should be concerned,” says Ellen Loy, director, SAFE: Stop Abuse of Elders.
When visiting or calling, always ask your parent how things are. You can get a sense of what’s going on from the conversation. If a parent is uncomfortable talking because a caretaker is nearby, find a time to call or stop by when the caretaker is not in.
While at your parent’s home, if you note that the house in disarray or there is no food in the refrigerator, there is room for concern. In addition, notice if any medication is missing. “One underreported issue is family members or paid care givers taking drugs for medical reasons or to sell them,” says Loy. The result is seniors don’t receive their appropriate treatment.
“If you feel something isn’t right, follow your instincts. There is a good chance, it isn’t,” Loy adds.
If you are concerned, what should you do?
First and foremost, if you are concerned, call the SAFE helpline at 410-234-0030. CHANA will coordinate intake and counseling, determining if a family mediator is needed to navigate an issue, or if there is abuse involved. For example, families might need help resolving problems if siblings disagree, like whether a parent should stay at home or go to an assisted living facility. Or they may determine abuse is involved and suggest appropriate solutions from counseling the victim to prosecuting the perpetrator as well as providing safe shelter, if necessary.
In addition, JCS may assist in locating and obtaining needed resources for the elder, such as finding an apartment, to be able to live safely and as independently as possible in the community.
If an older adult who is being abused has nowhere else to go, Levindale will provide a virtual shelter— a place to stay. “We specialize in working with older adults so we understand the special needs of this community,” says Michelle Mills, director Adult Day Services, Levindale.
The SAFE program will work with the individual and family to identify a safe place.
If you are concerned that someone you love may be experiencing elder abuse, call the SAFE helpline at 410-234-0030. Learn more at chanabaltimore.org.