Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Elder's Electricity Cut off After Being Left Alone by Her Children

Charlie Fidelman, Gazette Health Montreal , Canada November 20

It was the building's janitor who found the elderly tenant in difficulty after her electricity was cut for non-payment.

Health officials later determined the woman was suffering from dementia, as well as being malnourished and dehydrated; food left for her consumption had rotted on the counter.

"The adult child supposedly taking care of her had left her alone for days on end," said Francine Cytrynbaum, a consultant with the Quebec Elder Abuse Consultation Centre, based at the Centre de sante et de services sociaux Cavendish in Notre Dame de Grace.

It is a major health issue when an elderly person has no money for food or medication because someone in charge of their finances has depleted their bank account, Cytrynbaum told a public health conference in Montreal on Tuesday.

Mistreatment of the elderly includes flagrant abuse of finances, aggression, violence, rape and neglect. Abuse also includes use of diapers in long-term care centres for seniors who do not need them, baths given once a week and meals served cold.

With the population aging, gaps in the care of vulnerable seniors are expected to widen, health officials warned.

According to a recent study, abuse victims have a much higher mortality rate than those who are not maltreated, Cytrynbaum said.

"It's difficult to look at the impact because it's an under-reported problem," she said. "Sometimes, those living with abuse are not physically or mentally in a position to come forward."

Or they are terrified of being abandoned by kin or fearful of revenge at the hands of a caregiver, she added.

Isabelle Merizzi, press aide to Quebec Health Minister Philippe Couillard, said the government has adopted a "zero tolerance" policy concerning mistreatment of seniors in the province's 38,000 long-term care centres.

Also, Quebec's privately run seniors residences will have to be certified within two years, and then subject to regular inspections, she added.Abuse cases are not isolated incidents, said Dr. Denise Gagne, a consultant to the Quebec Health Department.

According to surveys, mistreatment is widespread in some public and private long-term facilities, group homes and seniors' own homes, said Gagne, a Quebec City doctor specializing in seniors and community medicine.

The problem will increase sharply as more private homes open in response to growing demand because of a shortage of staff and beds in the public system, she warned.
The abuse rate in the general senior population - classified as age 65 or older - is about four per cent, Gagne said.

"But in seniors getting services from institutions, whether home care or in long-term residences, the abuse ranges from four to 12 per cent, and even up to 15 per cent," Gagne said.
The public system has flaws but at least the checks and balances in place, Gagne said.
"There are no such mechanisms for private residences."

Coroner Catherine Rudel-Tessier's investigation of the death of five seniors in private residences in 2002 and 2003 raised concerns about dangerous neglect of seniors in their care. Rudel-Tessier recommended private institutions caring for aging seniors be evaluated regularly and systematically.

The Elder Abuse Hotline can be reached at 514-489-2287 or 1-888-489-2287.

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