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Austin Health Care: An Update on Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is a serious problem affecting hundreds of thousands of older persons From Austin to Sacramento to Miami each year. Professionals in the field of aging are in a unique position to recognize and initiate intervention for this problem.

Elder abuse is commonly divided into the following categories:

Physical abuse - any type of physical force or violence that result in body injury
or pain, including inappropriate use of restraint.

Sexual abuse – any non-consensual sexual contact or including sexual contact with
a person unable to give consent.

Emotional or psychological abuse – The deliberate infliction of emotional anguish
or distress through harassment, threat, intimidation or other behavior - verbal or non-verbal.

Neglect - the failure or refusal to carry out a person’s duties to an elder, including the provision of basic life necessities and fulfillment of fiduciary responsibilities.

Abandonment – the desertion of an older person by someone who has assumed their responsibilities.

Financial abuse - the improper or unlawful use or exploitation of an older person’s financial assets or any possessions.

Self-neglect – any behavior that threatens an elder’s own health or safety.

Recognizing Signs of Elder Abuse
All agencies that work with the elderly should develop and publicize to all employees the policies and procedures for recognizing signs of elder abuse among their clients or prospective clients. The policies and procedures should include reference to the specific features of each category of abuse. Agencies should have in place clear guidelines for reporting suspected abuse to managers and for documenting abuse appropriately.

Training Employees
Education is an essential prerequisite for preventing and responding appropriately to elder abuse. Agencies should incorporate basic information about this problem into their orientation for new employees. In addition they should provide each employee with the agency’s policies and procedures on elder abuse. One excellent resource is the monograph entitled Developing Training Programs on Elder Abuse Prevention for In-Home Helpers: Issues and Guidelines, published by the National Center on Elder Abuse.

Reporting Elder Abuse
Agencies should have clear written policies and procedures for when and how to report suspected abuse. This needs to be reported to local Adult Protective Services units, law enforcement, and other entities responsible for abuse investigations. Policies and procedures should be in compliance with local laws.

Elder Abuse Resources
For more information about elder abuse, the National Center for Elder Abuse serves as the most comprehensive national resource for professionals and the public. Its mission is to “promote understanding, knowledge sharing, and action on elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation”.

About the Author: Bekie Cohner is a nurse and writer who has 10 years of experience working in the Austin Health Care field in the geriatric population.

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