If you are an elder who is being abused, neglected, or exploited, tell at least one person. Tell your doctor, a friend, or a family member whom you trust. Or call one of the helplines listed in Resources & References below.
If you see an older adult being abused or neglected, don’t hesitate to report the situation. Don’t assume that someone else will take care of it or that the person being abused is capable of getting help if he or she really needs it.
Many seniors don’t report the abuse they face even if they’re able. Some fear retaliation from the abuser, while others believe that if they turn in their abusers, no one else will take care of them. When the caregivers are their children, they may be ashamed that their children are behaving abusively or blame themselves: “If I’d been a better parent when they were younger, this wouldn’t be happening.” Or they just may not want children they love to get into trouble with the law.
How do I report elder abuse?
For a list of helplines to call in your country, see the Resources & References section below. In the U.S., for example, the first agency to respond to a report of elderly abuse is usually Adult Protective Services (APS). Its role is to investigate abuse cases, intervene, and offer services and advice, although the power and scope of APS varies from state to state. Wherever you’re reporting elder abuse, though, there are some important things to remember to ensure that you’re able to communicate effectively in different situations:
Tip 1: Try to be specific as you can in your description
You don’t need “hard evidence” to report abuse. In many situations, abuse can be subtle or happen gradually. However, the more specific details you can provide, the clearer the picture of abuse can become. For example, if you’re worried that your neighbor is not taking care of himself, instead of reporting, “My neighbor is having a hard time taking care of himself”, try “I’ve noticed that my neighbor wears the same outfit over and over again and it is looking very dirty. When I come to the door, I smell urine and even feces. The house also smells like there is trash accumulating inside.”
Tip 2: Understand the elder does have the right to refuse services
As painful as it may be, unless the older adult no longer has the mental capacity to make their own decisions, he or she does have the right to refuse help. A senior may refuse to admit they’re being abused because they’re afraid the caregiver will retaliate, or because they’re worried about who will take care of them if their abusive caregiver is removed. Sadly, an elder adult may view having an abusive caretaker as better than having no caretaker and being forced to move out of their own home. In these situations, if it is safe for you to do so, continue to stay in contact and encourage the elder to consider alternatives to home care. For example:
Taking tours of assisted living or other facilities, without any immediate pressure to move, may help dispel myths or eradicate the older person’s fears about moving
Offering services on a trial basis can help the elder see the positive changes they can have, and make them more open to change. For example, if self-neglect is an issue, encourage them to try housekeeping help for a month, or a meal delivery service for a few weeks.
Keeping the older adult and caregiver connected to support services can help reduce feelings of isolation and depression, two major risk factors for elder abuse. Also, the more support there is for the elder and the caregiver, the more eyes there will be to watch for any warning signs of abuse.
If a family caregiver is suspected of abuse, other family members may have the best chance of convincing the older adult to consider alternative care.
Tip 3: Keep your eyes and ears open
If you see future incidences of abuse, continue to call and report them. Each elder abuse report is a snapshot of what is going on. The more information that you can provide, the better the chance the elder has to get the level of care he or she needs. Older adults can be increasingly isolated from society and, with no school or work to attend, it can be easy for abuse cases to go unnoticed for long periods.