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SENIOR LIFE 101 By CARL R. JOHNSON Elder physical abuse happens more than you would think
In last month’s column, I addressed the specific issue of how seniors are often the victims of financial abuse, or exploitation, and how they and their families can guard against this growing problem. In today’s column, I want to address the equally troubling dilemma of elder physical abuse, how to identify it and what to do about it.
Sadly, physical abuse of senior citizens is not that uncommon. According to the American Psychological Association, “Every year an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims of physical, psychological or other forms of abuse and neglect. For every case of elder abuse and neglect reported to authorities, experts estimate there may be as many as five cases not reported. Research suggests elders who have been abused tend to die earlier than those who are not abused, even in the absence of chronic conditions or life threatening disease.”
With the senior population continuing to grow, we can anticipate this problem will become even more prevalent and anything we can do to minimize or reduce these occurrences is critical to the health and well being of our elders.
How to identify
Before we can take action to prevent elder physical abuse, we first need to understand and identify abuse when we encounter it. According to the law firm of Brayton Purcell, “Physical abuse is force that causes injury or pain. Striking, hitting, beating, pushing, shoving, shaking, slapping or kicking is considered physical abuse.” However, abuse also can involve the inappropriate use of physical restraints, as well as overmedicating with tranquilizing drugs. If a patient in a skilled nursing facility or hospital is in severe pain, providing inadequate pain medication may also constitute elder abuse. Similarly, failing to administer prescribed drugs may be neglect or physical abuse.
Although the conditions I just described often occur in healthcare facilities, they also can be employed by a family member (or caregiver) in a home environment. In fact, statistics from the National Center On Elder Abuse (NCEA) show only 10 percent of the elderly people who need assistance or care live in a long-term care facility such as a nursing home. The remaining 90 percent either live alone or with loved ones. And although it’s hard to imagine a son, daughter or grandchild abusing an elder, the fact is they make up 36 percent of the reported incidents of elder abuse.
So what do we look for that would help us to identify if an elder is being abused? Some telltale signs include: 1) bruises, especially in clusters or regular patterns in areas such as the neck or groin; 2) black eyes, welts, lacerations, rope marks, broken bones, open wounds, cuts and untreated injuries in various stages of healing; 3) burns (commonly on soles, palms or buttocks); 4) laboratory evidence of medication overdose or failure to administer prescribed drugs; 5) an elder’s report of abuse; and 6) an elder’s sudden withdrawn behavior, or the refusal of the caretaker to allow visitors to see the elder alone.
What to do about it
If you know an elderly person, or are a family member of an elder who is dependent upon others for their care, take the time to visit them. If possible, and the elder person is living with family, give the caregiver time to take a break and get away for a little while. In some cases, it may be best to hire a professional caregiver to provide that respite break. For those in nursing homes, check in with them at different times of the day. Ask questions, make observations, and write them down. If at anytime you suspect abuse is occurring, report it immediately to the proper authorities. Here in Kitsap County, that would be Adult Protective Services at (888) 833-4925 for a person who lives in their own home, or Gayle Helseth-Kenison at (360) 337-5700 for people living in care facilities.
Remember, to know of abuse and not take action against it is the same as condoning the act. We must all take responsibility to defeat this tragedy being experienced by far too many seniors.
Carl R. Johnson is the community relations director at Abiding HomeCare in Silverdale. He appears the last Friday of the month in the CK Reporter.