Elder abuse exists in many hidden forms
October 21, 2013
More than 40 RSVP volunteers turned out last week for an educational session that offered many lessons. Perhaps the most important was the section on elder abuse, a topic that doesn't come up in normal conversation often. But it's a subject RSVP respite and transportation drivers need to know about — and when to act as appropriate.
Elder abuse is a negligent act that causes harm or serious risk of harm to any person 60 and older. Penalties can be as high as a 20-year sentence.
Here's some of what session attendees heard:
Physical abuse involves serious or unexplained injuries, inappropriate physical or chemical restraint, sexual acts, medication abuse or psychological or mental problems such as verbal attacks.
Sexual abuse is "when an older person is forced, tricked or coerced into unwarranted sexual contact." This includes such contact with someone who is unable to give informed consent. It also includes rape, unwanted touching and explicit photography.
Another aspect of elder abuse is neglect. This includes the failure to provide "food, clothing, shelter and medical care and personal hygiene." It does not have to be intentional. There's also self-neglect: the failure of an elder to provide for his or her own needs because of an inability to do so. This is not a crime, as an elder has the right to make his own decisions unless a judge rules the elder incompetent. Elders who lack the capacity to make sound decisions face intervention to protect them from themselves.
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"Exploitation" is often in the news when it is in violation of a relationship based on trust. It may be an effort to obtain control of money, assets or property to permanently deprive the elder of these assets.
Another category of elder abuse is isolation, which involves blocking an elder from receiving phone calls, mail or visitors.
Critically important to the RSVP audience were topics such as "signs of elder abuse." These include unexplained bruises, dehydration, over-medication or extreme sedation or unusual confinement.
Less obvious would be a fear of speaking for oneself when the caretaker is there, an anxiety to please, confusion, withdrawal, depression, a sudden change in financial actions or unusual withdrawals from the elders' account.
One may suspect abuse if a caretaker makes threatening remarks, tells conflicting stories about injuries or shows indifference toward the elder.
Abuse victims more often are 80 or older, with most suffering from dementia. Reports suggest two-thirds are women. Victims often deny abuse and won't cooperate because they are ashamed or fear being moved to a nursing home.
Nevada and the federal government have extensive laws about elder abuse. For information about federal law, call 775-684-1030. Stopping elder abuse begins with making a report.
To report elder abuse, call 800-729-0571. After hours, contact the Carson City Sheriff's Office or, if there is imminent danger, call 911. The RSVP presentation was made by the Nevada Aging and Disability Services with an office in Carson City. It is not funded for emergency response.
Sam Bauman writes about senior issues for the Nevada Appeal.