It is a privilege to welcome Sharon Seago, Aging Unit Director for the Administration on Aging at Central Midlands Council of Governments, as guest this week.
We are benefited by this opportunity to learn about her recent training on the subject of Violence Against Women in Later Life. The U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. offered education that provided her with the knowledge and responsibility to train Law Enforcement officers in the Abuse in Later Life Program.
Seago first explains the goal of the Abuse in Later Life Program, “Each year hundreds of thousands of older persons are abused, neglected, and exploited. This program can increase recognition of and response to elder abuse and create and/or improve service to older survivors of assault and abuse. This can be achieved through the delivery of high-quality trainings to front-line police officers and direct service providers. It also provides advanced trainings for detectives, judges and prosecutors. Monthly meetings are to assess systems.”
Q: Who assaults, abuses and exploits older adults?
A: It may surprise you to learn, family members such as adult sons or daughters, grandchildren, siblings, spouses and intimate partners, non-relative caregivers, residents in facility settings, online predators, strangers or acquaintances (least frequent).
Q: What is elder abuse?
A: Many victims are people who are older, frail and vulnerable and cannot help themselves and depend on others to meet most basic needs. In general, elder abuse is a term referring to any knowing, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. Abuse most frequently affects women, but men are not immune. People with disabilities, in excellent health, living alone, with family or in facility are included. Abuse is very under reported—for every one report, 23 cases are not reported. Legislatures in all 50 states have passed some form of elder abuse prevention laws.
Laws and definitions of terms vary considerably from one state to another, but broadly defined, abuse may be:
• Physical Abuse—inflicting physical pain or injury on a senior, e.g. slapping, bruising, or restraining by physical or chemical means.
• Sexual Abuse—non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
• Neglect—The failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder.
• Exploitation—The illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit.
• Emotional Abuse—inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts, e.g. humiliating, intimidating, or threatening.
• Abandonment—desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
• Self-neglect—Characterized as the failure of a person to perform essential, self-care tasks and that such failure threatens his/her own health or safety.
It is very important to be familiar with the warning signs of elder abuse. While one sign does not necessarily indicate abuse, some tell-tale signs that there could be a problem are:
• Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment.
• Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
• Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
• Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
• Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
• Behavior such as belittling, threats and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
• Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also signs.
Most importantly, be alert. The suffering is often in silence. It you notice changes in a senior’s personality or behavior; you should start to question what is going on.
Remember, it is not your role to verity that abuse is occurring, only to alert others of your suspicions.
Abuse in Later Life Program is a 36-month cooperative agreement with Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands West Columbia Police Department Central Midlands Council of Governments, Area Agency on Aging and Disability Resource Center 11th Circuit Solicitor’s Office funded by U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.