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Elder Abuse:
What Is It and How to Get Help

It is difficult for people to accept the notion that adult abuse occurs in the elderly, but the sad fact is that it occurs everyday.

Last year in Ohio over 16,000 incidents of elder abuse were reported to Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. In Cuyahoga County alone, over 3,000 incidences of elder abuse were reported to Cuyahoga County Department and Senior Adult Services, Adult Protective Services.

Who is at Risk?

Elder abuse can occur anywhere - in the home, in nursing homes, or other institutions. It affects seniors across all socio-economic groups, cultures, and races. Based on available information, women and "older" elders are more likely to be victimized.

Seniors with memory loss, mental retardation or mental illness are especially vulnerable and may be unable to report it or may not be believed if they bring it up. Isolation from family and friends also contributes greatly to the risk.

It is important to realize that, due to the infirmities of age and lack of support, seniors may be limited in their ability to protect themselves from harm.

Elder abuse is an under-recognized problem with devastating and even life-threatening consequences. Every day, headlines throughout the U.S. paint a bleak picture of seniors who have been abused, neglected, or exploited; often by people they trust the most.

Abusers may be spouses, family members, personal acquaintances, or professionals in positions of trust, or opportunistic strangers who prey on the vulnerable.

How Big is the Problem?

No one really knows. Relatively few cases are identified, as elders often are reluctant to report the mistreatment. Experts estimate that less than one in five cases is reported to the authorities, which means that very few seniors who have been abused get the help they need.

One thing is for certain, elder abuse can happen to any older individual - your neighbor, your loved one, it can even happen to you.

Be Aware of the Different Types of Elder Abuse

  • Physical abuse- Use of force to threaten or physically injure a vulnerable elder.
  • Emotional abuse - Verbal attacks, threats, rejection, isolation, or belittling acts that cause or could cause mental anguish, pain or distress to a senior.
  • Sexual abuse - Sexual contact that is forced, tricked, threatened or otherwise coerced upon a vulnerable elder, including anyone who is unable to grant consent.
  • Exploitation - Theft, fraud, misuse or neglect of authority or use of undue influence as a lever to gain control over an older person's money or property.
  • Neglect - A caregiver's failure or refusal to provide for a vulnerable elder's safety, physical or emotional needs.
  • Self-neglect - An inability to understand the consequences of one's own actions or inaction, which leads to, or may lead to, harm or endangerment.

Please recognize that self-neglect excludes any situation in which an older person understands the consequences of his/her decisions and makes a voluntary decision to engage in acts that threaten his/her health or safety as a matter of personal choice.

How can we get Help?

In most counties, the Department of Senior & Adult Services administers Adult Protective Services. The purpose of Adult Protective Services (APS), mandated by the Ohio Revised Code, (R.C. 5101.60), is to protect and assist adults 60 and older who may be victims of abuse, neglect, self-neglect and/or financial exploitation. Allegations of abuse concerning vulnerable adults 18and older are investigated on a voluntary basis.

What Services are Provided by APS?

  • Investigation of adult abuse allegations by an APS social services worker.
  • Same day response in cases of emergency.
  • Once a case is substantiated, social services workers provide case management, including referrals to community services, such as home support, temporary shelter, meals, medical care, financial counseling and more.

What Information do I Report?

  • Your name and phone number if you are comfortable doing so; anonymous reports are also accepted.
  • Name, address, and phone number of the person who is, or you think may be, a victim of abuse.
  • Reasons why you think the older adult may be or is at risk of harm.

What Happens After the Call Is Made?

  • An APS worker will make a home visit to investigate the allegation.
  • If there is a need for protective assistance, an APS worker will work with the adult victim and others (family, friends, volunteers and professionals) to assist the adult and reduce or eliminate the danger.
  • If the adult victim is capable, he/she will be encouraged to accept the care or services offered by the Department of Senior & Adult Services, and/or referral to other community agencies.
  • Whenever possible, Adult Protective Services staff will assist the adult to remain in his/her home or community.
  • Some adults may refuse help. Services cannot be forced on an adult, except as specified by law.
  • Legal action is taken only after all other appropriate solutions have been explored.

Many advocacy groups - some in the Cleveland area - are providing community education programs, professional training and consultation, and referral using a client-centered approach. The Consortium Against Adult Abuse and the Ohio Coalition for Adult Protective Services are working to strengthen the state mandated services and increase critical funding for protective services to ensure safety to Ohio's elderly.

To report elder abuse or ask for assistance, please contact the Adult Protective Services Hotlines listed below. All calls are confidential and can be made anonymously.

  • Ashtabula County APS Hotline - 440-994-2020
  • Cuyahoga County APS Hotline - 216-420-6700
  • Geauga County APS Hotline - 440-285-9141
  • Lake County APS Hotline - 440-350-4000
  • Lorain County APS Hotline - 440-284-4465

This article was written by Sylvia Pla-Raith, MA, LSW, Chief of Adult Protective Services for the Cuyahoga County Department of Senior and Adult Services and reprinted with permission from The Alert, a publication of The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

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