Friday, June 13, 2008

"Elder Abuse Awareness" in PA on WEAAD

Sunday, June 15, 2008 will be recognized as the third "World Elder Abuse Awareness Day" (WEAAD), when advocates "wear something purple" in honor of the cause to protect seniors from abuse.

The first "World Elder Abuse Awareness Day" was held on June 15, 2006, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. This year's "Global Celebration" will be held Ottawa, Canada on Monday, June 16th.

Elder abuse is a frequent topic on this Blog, with postings categorized under the topic "Elder Abuse".

What is "elder abuse"?

National Center on Elder Abuse describes seven types of conduct involving an elderly person that is objectionable:

  • Physical abuse is defined as the use of physical force that may result in bodily injury, physical pain, or impairment.
    • Physical abuse may include but is not limited to such acts of violence as striking (with or without an object), hitting, beating, pushing, shoving, shaking, slapping, kicking, pinching, and burning.
    • In addition, inappropriate use of drugs and physical restraints, force-feeding, and physical punishment of any kind also are examples of physical abuse.
  • Sexual abuse is defined as non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an elderly person.
    • Sexual contact with any person incapable of giving consent is also considered sexual abuse.
    • It includes, but is not limited to, unwanted touching, all types of sexual assault or battery, such as rape, sodomy, coerced nudity, and sexually explicit photographing.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse is defined as the infliction of anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts.
    • Emotional/psychological abuse includes but is not limited to verbal assaults, insults, threats, intimidation, humiliation, and harassment.
    • In addition, treating an older person like an infant; isolating an elderly person from his/her family, friends, or regular activities; giving an older person the "silent treatment;" and enforced social isolation are examples of emotional/psychological abuse.
  • Neglect is defined as the refusal or failure to fulfill any part of a person's obligations or duties to an elder.
    • Neglect may also include failure of a person who has fiduciary responsibilities to provide care for an elder (e.g., pay for necessary home care services) or the failure on the part of an in-home service provider to provide necessary care.
    • Neglect typically means the refusal or failure to provide an elderly person with such life necessities as food, water, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene, medicine, comfort, personal safety, and other essentials included in an implied or agreed-upon responsibility to an elder.

  • Abandonment is defined as the desertion of an elderly person by an individual who has assumed responsibility for providing care for an elder, or by a person with physical custody of an elder.
  • Financial or material exploitation is defined as the illegal or improper use of an elder's funds, property, or assets.Examples include, but are not limited to,
    • cashing an elderly person's checks without authorization or permission;
    • forging an older person's signature;
    • misusing or stealing an older person's money or possessions;
    • coercing or deceiving an older person into signing any document (e.g., contracts or will); and
    • the improper use of conservatorship, guardianship, or power of attorney.
  • Self-neglect is characterized as the behavior of an elderly person that threatens his/her own health or safety.
    • Self-neglect generally manifests itself in an older person as a refusal or failure to provide himself/herself with adequate food, water, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene, medication (when indicated), and safety precautions.
    • The definition of self-neglect excludes a situation in which a mentally competent older person, who understands the consequences of his/her decisions, makes a conscious and voluntary decision to engage in acts that threaten his/her health or safety as a matter of personal choice.
According to Pennsylvania Statistics noted by Temple University, physical abuse is the conduct most reported & substantiated by investigations:
The Department´s 2002-2003 data reveal that over 25 percent of the substantiated reports involved abuse (physical abuse, sexual assault and other forms of assault.)

Another 13.5 percent of the substantiated cases involved financial exploitation of the elder´s assets (theft of funds or property).

All three of these categories of elder mistreatment (physical abuse, sexual assault and theft of funds) are criminal acts.

The vast majority of these crimes are not reported to the police, nor prosecuted.
When they are reported, frequently so much time has passed since the commission of the crime that evidence has been lost, witness accounts have gone undocumented and suspected perpetrators have had the opportunity to fabricate explanations, making prosecution difficult, at best. * * *
The Institute on Protective Services at Temple University (Harrisburg) -- under its heading "Elder Abuse and Protective Services in the News" -- tracks news stories of elder abuse in Pennsylvania as a demonstration of the prevalence of such conduct.

Governmental agencies and the criminal justice system remain the strongest forces in limiting elder abuse. These include the U.S. Agency on Aging with the U.S. Department of Justice, and also state aging departments with their attorney general offices (such as the PA Department of Aging & its Area Agencies on Aging, with the PA Attorney General's Office & local district attorney offices).

For example, the PA DoA sponsors a Commonwealth "elder abuse hotline" (1-800-490-8505), to facilitate reporting and investigation of incidents; and the PA AG maintains an Elder Abuse Unit with its own reporting hotline (1-866-623-2137).

Many counties in Pennsylvania sponsor "elder abuse task forces", comprised of representatives from the local area agency on aging, district attorney's office, and elder advocacy groups. See, for example, an article that appeared in the Allentown Morning Call on June 12, 2008, by Brian Callaway, entitled "
Task force looks to protect seniors", which noted such targeted "[e]fforts to include police training, cooperation among agencies" in Lehigh County, PA.

Given the difficulties of prosecution, awareness & education appear as alternative approaches to improve the lives of the elderly and reduce elder abuse.

Charitable organizations or consortiums -- some sponsored or funded in part by governments -- provide referral resources, educational programs, and communication forums regarding elder abuse. The primary one is the National Center on Elder Abuse.

Also, various geriatric and aging educational centers operating in Pennsylvania address the topic of elder abuse, among other concerns for the elderly. Such centers -- usually affiliated with a university or a medical center (or both) -- include:
For a more extensive list of such geriatric centers nationwide, see: "Online Resources" provided by the Geriatric Education Center of Pennsylvania.

Thus, through both
enforcement (prosecution) and education (awareness), instances of elder abuse, in its various forms, can be reduced.

The latter approach is highlighted by "World Elder Abuse Awareness Day" every year on June 15th.

Update: 06/13/08 @ 4:45 pm:

On June 13, 2008, at 4:04 pm, the PA Department of Aging issued a Press Release,
entitled "PA Department of Aging Urges Reporting of Suspected Elder Abuse, Neglect":
June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The observance was created by the World Health Organization and the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse to help prevent the abuse and neglect of older people.

“Abuse of the elderly is a horrific crime, and protecting vulnerable older adults from abuse is a priority for the Department of Aging,” said Secretary Nora Dowd Eisenhower. “Because we are also deeply concerned about the problem of self neglect, we encourage residents to keep an eye out for older neighbors who may have trouble caring for themselves as they age.”

Suspected elder abuse or neglect may be reported to any of the 52 Area Agencies on Aging in Pennsylvania. * * *

Elder abuse comes in many forms, including:

  • Neglect such as failure to provide food, water and personal hygiene; self neglect.
  • Physical abuse such as hitting and beating.
  • Emotional abuse such as isolating a person from friends and family.
  • Sexual abuse such as improper touching and rape.
  • Financial and material abuse such as stealing money and coercing an individual to sign checks or documents. * * *
Reports can be made anonymously and individuals have legal protection from retaliation for making a report. Calls to the statewide elder abuse hotline at 1-800-490-8505 will be investigated promptly.