Thursday, April 2, 2009

Elder Abuse up 20% in 2009

Lexington, Kentucky USA - By Jack Cross/President of Home Instead Senior Care as published in the The Local Lexington

Mary is 86 and lives alone in a small cluttered apartment. The food in the refrigerator looks long passed its “sell by” date.

Mary has been wearing the same dress for weeks, and she cannot remember when she last had a shower or a nutritious meal. Her adult son lives near but is not interested. Her adult daughter also lives near. She is somewhat involved with her mother, but she has a family and career and is unwilling or unable to improve the situation.

Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common today. It’s an example of elder abuse by neglect, and elder abuse is on the rise in Massachusetts.

I recently spoke with Marissa Hamilton, of Protective Services at Minuteman Senior Services in Burlington, to get an update on the situation.

According to Marissa, calls in to Minuteman reporting possible elder abuse are up 20 percent as of January 2009. A Boston Globe article on the subject in February mentioned two other similar agencies whose number of reports in a recent four-month period hit record highs for both their 30 years of operation.

The overall increase in the senior p0pulation accounts for some of the rise, as does a greater amount of outreach about the issue to “mandated reporters” — people in positions of responsibility such as police, firefighters, health and home-care personnel etc.
However, the major recent change that everyone agrees is adding so greatly to the problem is the current state of the economy.

Neglect of elders due to limited time and resources on the part of their children, issues of affording care and medications, and a heightened level of stress among both seniors themselves and their children and other caregivers are all more prevalent today than they were a year ago.
Seniors are especially at risk for financial exploitation, suffering not only from theft itself, but also from verbal abuse and even physical violence during arguments over money.
Other categories of abuse that the regional senior services agencies respond to are physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect.

According to literature from the Protective Services office, you should seek help if your caregiver or a family member or acquaintance:

· Is hurting you or threatening to hurt you
· Won’t let you see friends, family or your doctor
· Is not providing food and medications (or is having medications stolen)
· Is taking money or things of value
· Is signing your name without permission
· Is asking you to sign papers you don’t understand
The reporting process, as Marissa describes it, is very straightforward. It is designed to encourage anyone who sees a possible cause for concern to take action, or anyone who feels threatened to feel secure about asking for help.
At the Elder Abuse Minuteman hotline number (781-272-7177) or the statewide hotline (800-922-2275) the caller can remain anonymous. A Minuteman staff member consults with the caller to evaluate the problem and determine whether it constitutes abuse or not.
For problems categorized as suspected abuse, an investigation is opened and a caseworker assigned. The outcome of the investigation is generally a service plan to help resolve the situation and make sure that it does not reoccur.
The resources that can be called into play are extensive and include medical assistance, housing, in-home help, transportation, education, legal services, institution placement, plus social and material assistance.

If the abuse victim is in some imminent danger, Protective Services will take immediate action to help or protect them. This could involve actions beginning with contacting local health or public safety organizations, to taking out a restraining order, to actually getting the victim to a safe house or respite facility, if necessary.
The identity of the person reporting the abusive situation is always protected and kept completely confidential.

It is unfortunate, of course, that the state of the economy is impacting attempts at aid as well. The Globe account mentions that budget cuts affecting protective service agencies have started to force them to “triage” cases, giving priority to the most serious. Limited resources may mean that some situations cannot be fully resolved, as staff would like.

If you suspect abuse or are experiencing it yourself, seek help before it’s too late. Anyone can report suspected abuse, even a casual observer.

If you are a caregiver and are feeling ready to crack, ask for help too.

Jack Cross is President of Home Instead Senior Care-Lexington, a provider of companionship and home care for the elderly. He can be reached at 781-402-0060 or See his Web site at

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