Q: I was thinking that elder abuse must be increasing since the pandemic started because people are at home without outside support. What do we do if we think an older adult is being abused or neglected?
A: Interestingly, the number of reported cases of elder abuse in Ventura County has decreased since the pandemic began. However, this is probably not indicative of the actual number of abuse cases, but rather, a sad reality of having more isolation in our older adult community and less interaction with outsiders who might spot the signs of abuse and make the reports.
It is an unfortunate consequence of isolating at home that often leads to reduced visibility, increased stress and less support services. This, in turn, can cause an increase in abuse and neglect. The agencies that usually serve our frail elderly, including senior centers and adult day care centers, have been closed, and thus there are less eyes on our most at-risk older adults and disabled adults.
Elder abuse can take many forms. It can be in the form of physical abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse, or neglect and abandonment. I will explain a bit about each and how to recognize common signs. Ultimately, if there are any indicators, or you suspect any of these types of abuse, the right thing to do is report it to Adult Protective Services.
Physical abuse is when there is injury to the older adult, including cuts, bruises, unexplained injuries, physical restraints, sexual abuse, or deprivation of food and water. You may notice the older adult appearing frightened, withdrawn, confused, or afraid to speak freely.
Psychological abuse may occur when the older adult is being isolated from others. They may be prevented from speaking to family or friends, unable to view their own mail, or unable to have any contact with concerned people in their life.
Financial abuse may occur when money is stolen, or property is taken. However, most financial abuse is a result of scams including romance scams and computer scams. Scams like this can be directly reported to the National Fraud Hotline to report these scams which is 1-833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311).
Neglect is a form of abuse that can be perpetrated by a caregiver who is meant to be providing care but is not, causing an unsafe situation. Or, the older adult may self-neglect by refusing medical care, living in an unsafe home, or unable to obtain proper nutrition.
Ultimately, if you notice signs of any type of abuse it is best to allow the Adult Protective Services (APS)agency to receive the report and investigate the situation. APS’s role is to provide assistance for the protection of dependent adults (a person age 18-64 who has physical or mental limitations) and elder adults (people age 65 and older).
In Ventura County, self-neglect has become the number one reported type of abuse, over financial abuse. It accounts for 49% of all reported cases. Financial abuse makes up 28% of all cases and neglect perpetrated by others accounts for 15% of the cases.
When you call APS to make a report, they will gather the information over the phone and keep your identity confidential to the person you are reporting about. A social worker will be sent to visit the person face to face and talk to them to better understand the situation. The social worker will provide services as needed including information, referrals, short term case management, investigation and assessment of abuse.
We must be a community that looks out for one another, and especially for our most vulnerable. If you are worried about reporting just know that it is always better to be cautious and have the situation checked out, rather than to do nothing and risk someone being hurt. Worst case scenario you are taking action to stop abuse, and best-case scenario you are sending a social worker to offer support and show the person that someone cares about them.
To reach APS in Los Angeles County call 1-877-477-3646 and to reach APS in Ventura County call 805-654-3200.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org