Elders deserve care, respect | Jobyna Nickum

“Older people today are more visible, more active and more independent than ever before. They are living longer and in better health. But as the population of older Americans grows, so does the hidden problem of elder abuse, exploitation, and neglect. Every year an estimated 2.1 million Americans are victims of physical, psychological or other forms of abuse or neglect.  Those statistics may not tell the whole story. For every case of elder abuse and neglect that is reported to authorities, experts estimate that there may be as many as five cases that have not been reported…Like other forms of abuse, elder abuse is a complex problem and it is easy for people to have misconceptions about it.  Many people who hear “elder abuse and neglect” think about older people living in nursing homes or about elderly relatives who live all alone and never have visitors. But elder abuse is not just a problem of elder people living on the margins of our everyday life. It is right in our midst.” – American Psychological Association, “Elder Abuse and Neglect:  In Search of Solutions.”

June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and May is Older American’s Month – a time dedicated to highlighting issues impacting older citizens. The following information is all taken from the National Center on Elder Abuse handout “How You Can Help in the Fight Against Elder Abuse” (2012).

Isolation is a known risk factor for elder abuse, neglect and self-neglect.  But reducing isolation is as simple as sparing a little time to reach out to our seniors. By reaching out through an informal visit, or by volunteering with one of the many programs that provide support to older individuals, we can help to reduce the risk of elder abuse.

The following is a very graphic situation, taken from the newspaper in Flint Township, Michigan. Those who are very sensitive they may want to skip this part:

“For more than 40  years, Pauline Niec has made it her business to know her neighbors in the quiet subdivision off Beecher and Dye roads. She takes walks along the curved roads and waves to neighbors outside nice-looking ranch homes with large front yards. But something terrible has been going on behind some closed doors on Sun Terrace Drive.  Inside two homes just four doors apart, officials s

those entrusted to look out for two elderly women were instead horrible neglected them – one to the point of death.  Niec said she knew both families involved. On warm evenings, she sometimes walked through the neighborhood with Christopher Mukdsi and talked about his mother. “He said she had cancer,” said Niec, adding the walks tapered off a couple of years ago.

“But when she opened her newspaper last Saturday, Niec discovered that Christopher’s mother, Katherine, had died last summer of neglect so horrific that Genesee County Sheriff Robert J. Pickell likened her home to a ‘death camp.’ The woman had apparently been confined to the living room couch for eight months and was so malnourished that she weighed just 63 pounds when she died. Christopher Mukdsi, 50, was charged with murder last week after an eight-week police investigation uncovered disturbing allegations, including claims that she had not been bathed in a year and been told to urinate in coffee cups and defecate in pizza boxes.

“Two months after Mukdsi’s death on June 3, 2008, officials had rescued her 95-year-old neighbor from a home that officials say had been turned into a filth pit of piled trash by her nephew.  Just a couple of years earlier, Niec said, she and the woman had taken walks together.  But the walks stopped and Niec no longer saw the woman out on her porch. Niec thought about knocking on the door but never did.

“‘I should have but I didn’t,’ said Niec. Annie Speed, who lives next door to Mukdsi’s home, said unkempt lawns and trash sometimes piled outside were the only indicators to suggest anything amiss.

“‘You don’t bother people when family is involved,’ she said. ‘You don’t want to get into anybody’s business.’

“Officials fear that what happened on Sun Terrace Drive is part of a much larger problem. ‘There may be houses on your block, my block,’ said Pickell.  ‘I’m concerned that we’re just getting a teeny bit of what’s out there.’”

How can you help prevent elder abuse?

Commit to visiting an older friend, family member or neighbor who lives alone, or invite them to a family activity like a Little League game.

Ask an older acquaintance to share their talents by teaching you or your children a new skill like knitting, or how to bake a favorite recipe.

Volunteer with Meals on Wheels or the Hot Home Meal Delivery program. Home delivered meals can be helpful in preventing self-neglect. This also allows the volunteer to observe if the senior is managing well at home, or if he or she may need other assistance.

Become a long-term care ombudsman volunteer. An ombudsman acts as an advocate for those living in nursing homes and assisted living communities to assist in resolving complaints and issues. To find a program in our area, visit:

Bring on the dogs, cats and other friendly companions!  Many local animal shelters loan their “guests” out for pet therapy excursions to nursing homes and assisted living facilities.  Research demonstrates that interacting with pets can enhance physical and emotional health.

Keep in contact – Talk with your older friends, neighbors, and relatives. Maintaining communication will help decrease isolation, a risk factor for mistreatment.  It will also give them a chance to talk about any problems they may be experience.

Be aware of the possibility of abuse – look around and take note of what may be happening with your older neighbors and acquaintances.  Do they seem lately to be withdrawn, nervous, fearful, sad or anxious, especially around certain people, when they have not seemed so in the past?

On June 15

Make it a priority to visit an older friend or relative who lives in a nursing home or care facility

Purple is the color that has been designated for elder abuse awareness by the International Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. Wear purple in recognition of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15.

Start an elder abuse awareness group on a social networking site like Facebook and encourage friends to join the group. Provide links to information and advocacy resources.  Start a campaign to get “friends” to join by World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.


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, and 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

Abandonment – Deser-tion of a frail or vulnerable elder by anyone with a duty of care

Self-neglect – An inability to understand the consequences of one’s own actions or inaction, which leads to, or may lead to, hard or endangerment.


Warning Signs of Elder Abuse

Physical Abuse – Slap marks, unexplained bruises, most pressure marks, and certain types of burns and blisters, such as cigarette burns

Neglect – Pressure ulcers, filth, lack of medical care, malnutrition or dehydration

Emotional Abuse – With-drawal from normal activities, unexplained changes in alertness, or other unusual behavioral changes

Sexual Abuse – Bruises around the breasts or genital area and unexplained sexually transmitted diseases

Financial Abuse/Exploi-tation – Sudden change in finances and accounts, altered wills and trusts, unusual back withdrawals, checks written as “loans” and “gifts” and loss of property

What Should I Do If I Suspect Elder Abuse?

Report your concerns!

Adult Protective Services: (King County) 1-866-221-4909

Long Term Care Ombudsman:  1-206-623-0816.

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