Knowing the signs

Recognizing, preventing and reporting elder abuse

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MARQUETTE — With one in 10 older adults in the United States experiencing elder abuse, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is working to educate the public on the warning signs of elder abuse and ways to prevent elder abuse.

“All Michigan residents should watch for signs of abuse, such as physical trauma, withdrawal, depression, anxiety and fear of family members, friends or caregivers,” said MDHHS Director Nick Lyon, in a press release. “Efforts to identify, report and investigate elder abuse are critically important in reducing the harm to older adults. If you suspect someone is being abused, contact Adult Protective Services or local law enforcement if someone is in immediate danger.”

An estimated 200,000 senior citizens in Michigan are impacted by some form of elder abuse, said MDHHS Public Information Officer Lyn Sutfin in an email, adding that “Adult Protective Services substantiated and closed more than 6,000 cases of elder abuse” in fiscal year 2017.

To highlight this issue in Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder has proclaimed June 15 as Elder and Vulnerable Adult Abuse Awareness Day, with the proclamation stating “Michigan’s older adults are valued members of our state, and it is our responsibility to ensure their safety and minimize crimes against them.”

Abuse can take many forms — physical, psychological, verbal or sexual. Neglect and financial exploitation are also considered types of elder abuse.

According to MDHHS, these abuses can occur in private family homes as well as in institutional settings, such as nursing homes and other long-term care facilities — the abuse may be perpetrated by a person’s family members, caretakers or other individuals close to the person.

“Current research demonstrates that the primary abusers of the elderly are adult children and other family members, indicating that violence against elderly persons occurs mostly at home. It has been suggested that family stresses, both psychological and financial, may be a contributing factor to elder abuse,” the American Psychological Association states.

It’s particularly important to recognize the signs and intervene if abuse or neglect is suspected, as many who are in these situations may be unable to report it for a number of reasons.

“Many older people are too ashamed to report mistreatment. Or, they’re afraid if they make a report it will get back to the abuser and make the situation worse,” the National Institute on Aging states.

Elder abuse or neglect may be occurring if a person: develops bed sores or other preventable conditions; has unexplained bruises, burns or scars; looks unkempt, with unwashed hair and/or dirty clothes; becomes withdrawn; acts agitated or violent; displays signs of trauma, such as rocking back and forth; seems depressed or confused, has trouble sleeping or loses weight without a clear reason, according to the National Institute on Aging.

It’s important to stay in regular contact with a person and watch for these signs, Sutfin says.

“Typically, a good strategy to prevent abuse is to keep in frequent contact with the older adults in your life, she said in an email. “Signs of abuse are associated with changes in behavior (victims may be more nervous, sad or anxious, etc.)”

The NIA recommends speaking with the older person about their living situation if abuse or neglect is suspected — talk with the person in a one-on-one setting, let them know you think something may be wrong and that you’re there to help and support them.

If abuse or neglect seems to be occurring, get help from a local adult protective services agency, or if someone is in urgent danger, call 911 or local police immediately.

“Not filing a report could lead to future abuse for that victim or another victim, so reporting suspected abuse is important and necessary. If someone is in immediate danger people should call local law enforcement,” Sutfin said in an email.

If you feel that you or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, it can be reported to Adult Protective Services by calling 855-444-3911 at any time and allegations will be investigated within 24 hours after a report is received, the MDHHS press release states.

If abuse is occurring in a facility, contact Adult Protective Services and call the Michigan Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program at 866-485-9393, the MDHHS release states. For more information, visit the Adult Protective Services website at https://www.michigan.gov/mdhhs/0,5885,7-339-73971_7119_50647—,00.html.

Older adults are also encouraged to plan ahead to protect themselves against financial exploitation and be aware of the possibility of scams, as these crimes are becoming more common across Michigan. Area Agencies on Aging, such as UPCAP, can also connect seniors to “community-based services that can assist them in maintaining or increasing their independence, helping them reduce the risk of abuse,” the MDHHS release states. UPCAP can be reached at 906-786-4701.