One of the biggest hesitancy that many families have about moving to or placing their parents or loved one in a residential memory care facility is the potential for elder abuse. The gross reality is that it is a completely valid fear, substantiated by cases of people exploiting the vulnerable, and those who suffer from dementia are the epitome of vulnerable. In today’s post, we want to take the opportunity to confront this ugly truth head-on and help families better understand elder abuse, and offer some tips on how to avoid it.

At Serenity Gardens Memory Care Assisted Living centers, we keep our resident population small and focus on employee training to keep a family feel, rather than an institutional feel. This isn’t just to provide optimal resident comfort, but also to reduce caregiver burden and ensure everyone is well taken care of and knows each other well. We take the safety and wellbeing of our residents seriously and implement every safeguard to prevent any form of abuse. And, it works!

Understanding What Elder Abuse Is

When most people hear the term “elder abuse,” it is the word abuse is what most people focus on and think of physical or sexual assault. However, for most seniors, the abuse they suffer at the hands of their caretakers consists more so of emotional and financial abuse and neglect.

Physical abuse is when a senior is exposed to illness, pain, injury, functional impairment, distress, or death as a result of the intentional use of physical force that includes hitting, kicking, pushing, slapping, and burning.
Sexual abuse is forced or unwanted sexual contact of any kind and includes unwanted sexual contact, touch, or penetration, or verbal harassment.
Emotional or psychological abuse is verbal or nonverbal behaviors that inflict anguish, mental pain, fear, or distress on a senior. This type of abuse does not include physical harm but includes humiliation or disrespect, threats, harassment, or isolation.
Neglect is the failure to meet a senior’s basic needs that include food, water, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and essential medical care — including changing incontinent persons or alleviating shear or pressure in the immobile senior.
Financial abuse is the financial exploitation of a senior or the illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of a senior’s money, benefits, belongings, property, or assets for the benefit of someone other than the senior.

It is estimated that 1 in every 10 adults over the age of 60 are abused, and nearly 60% of abusers are their family caretakers. Those with memory impairments are twice as likely to be the victims of abuse. Reports of abuse in long-term care facilities vary by type of facility but can be nearly as high as community settings.

Risks and Warning Signs of Elder Abuse

Understanding what type of environment leads to abuse and some of the warning signs will help you better safeguard your elderly loved ones and prevent any undue harm.

Risks of Elder Abuse

To better understand how elder abuse happens, it’s important to take a look at the risk factors. It is rare that a caregiver seeks out the opportunity to abuse seniors, and more often than not, it is a result of compassion fatigue, stress, and the perceived inability for their senior to stop it or report it. Some risk factors include:

  • Memory impaired seniors
  • Those who are considered “total care” — need assistance with mobility, toileting, etc.
  • Depression and isolation in caregivers
  • Caregiver fatigue or burnout
  • Overburdened caregivers — including understaffing at long-term care facilities

Signs of Elder Abuse

Warning signs will vary based on the type of abuse being inflicted. As we mentioned, physical and sexual abuse are not nealy as common as emotinal abuse and neglect. Some signs to look for include:

  • Withdrawn or fearful behavior in the senior
  • Overbearing or aggressive behavior in the caregiver
  • Unexplained bruises, cuts, or skin tears
  • Bedsores
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Increased agitation or confusion, especially around certain caregivers

Any one of these warning signs warrants further investigation.

How to Prevent and Intervene on Suspected Abuse

The most important factor for preventing abuse is being proactive and understanding risk factors. Not all caregivers are good caregivers. When it comes to a family taking on the responsibility of caring for their loved ones, it is a good idea to enlist professional help, even if that means occasional home health or respite care. Alleviating some of the burdens and seeking help from trained memory care professionals can help educate families and relieve some of the care burdens to prevent compassion fatigue. If you are the caregiver, be mindful of how you are feeling, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Other prevention tips include:

  • Perform thorough background checks on caregivers
  • Check-in on caregivers and seniors regularly
  • Assess risk factors and warning signs
  • Encourage caregivers to have support or care teams to reduce the burden
  • Participate in an Ombudsman program
  • Make the move to a safe ALF/LTC

So, what do you do if you suspect abuse? The first thing is to say something. It may not always be a good idea to say something to the suspected abuser directly, but you can report to law enforcement, an Ombudsman, or the person charged with supervising their care.

At Serenity Gardens Memory Care Assisted Living centers, we treat every resident with dignity and respect and offer a family, home-like setting to put residents and caregivers at ease. We staff professional, well-trained memory care specialists who are well-vetted and a part of a care team. This helps reduce burnout and offers our seniors access to better, personalized care, and reduces the stress for family caregivers. We take safety seriously and are diligent about protecting our seniors from any form of abuse or exploitation. For a safe home your loved one can enjoy, connect with us online to learn more about our services and schedule your tour today.

To learn more, check out these online resources:

https://ncea.acl.gov/What-We-Do/Practice/Intervention-Partners/LTC.aspx
https://acl.gov/programs/Protecting-Rights-and-Preventing-Abuse/Long-term-Care-Ombudsman-Program
https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/elderabuse/fastfact.html
https://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/elder-abuse-and-neglect.htm
https://www.ncoa.org/public-policy-action/elder-justice/elder-abuse-facts/
https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/elder-abuse
https://www.carewatchers.org/long-term-care/residents-have-rights.html
https://theconsumervoice.org/uploads/files/long-term-care-recipient/CV_NHrights_factsheet_final.pdf
https://www.agingcare.com/articles/compassion-fatigue-caregivers-beyond-burnout-196224.htm
https://www.comfortkeepers.com/info-center/category/senior-health-and-wellbeing/article/compassion-fatigue-what-family-caregivers-need-to-