During the winter months of November through January, many people surround themselves with friends and family to celebrate the various holidays. Visits with elderly loved ones like parents, grandparents or special friends are times to be cherished — since for many of us, they don’t happen nearly often enough.
These holiday visits offer us a great opportunity to consider what assistance an aging parent or loved one might need to remain safe and as independent as possible. As much as we don’t like to think about it, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, 1 in 10 older Americans are abused, neglected or exploited at some point in their lifetimes. Of the victims, only 1 in 14 will ever be identified and offered help or a way out.
Two factors that make an elder more vulnerable to abuse, neglect and exploitation are the presence of dementia and/or isolation. While you are visiting you might ask whether your elderly loved one requires help with chores or housekeeping, bathing, dressing, shopping and meal preparation, managing money, transportation or medications. If he or she has a caregiver, is that person meeting his or her needs? How often does your loved one socialize with others? If your loved one uses the computer to access the internet, does he or she know how to spot possible exploitation or fraud?
If the elder is living with someone or has someone coming in to help, you might look for signs of abuse and neglect. Are there unexplained injuries or bruises? Is there a new “best friend” who is willing to care for the elder at little or no cost? Is the caregiver troubled by alcohol, drugs, or mental instability? Have there been changes to banking habits or new accounts opened with a debit card or additional signer? Does your loved one appear disheveled, dirty, malnourished or under- or over-medicated? Ask your loved one if he or she is afraid of anyone, if anyone is taking money or possessions without permission, or if anyone is making them feel uncomfortable or humiliated.
Hopefully everything is fine, but if you suspect your loved one has been abused, neglected or exploited, or if you are just concerned over his or her safety, call the Area Agency on Aging 3 at 419-222-7723, or your local Adult Protective Services office located in your county Department of Jobs and Family Services. You don’t need to be able to prove abuse. But help is available and the quicker interventions are put in place, the better chance your loved one has to live the best life possible.
Marianne Bradshaw is the outreach/education and volunteer coordinator for Area Agency on Aging 3. Reach her at 419-222-7723.