by Teresa Elliott, MiCAFE Student Intern
As the new student intern at ELM, I had the opportunity to attend an elder abuse prevention training event in Jackson, MI. ELM’s Vice President, Ron Tatro, conducted the training that was targeted toward professionals who have regular contact with older adults. The objective of the training was to increase awareness of elder abuse and to expand knowledge of its signs and symptoms so that we can help prevent elder abuse and respond more effectively when it does occur. I was impressed by the group’s dedication to supporting victims of elder abuse. It was clear to me that these professionals really care for the people they serve.
Elder abuse is defined as any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. Before this experience, I thought that elder abuse usually involved financial exploitation by a scam artist. I was surprised to learn that in almost 90% of abuse cases, the abuser is a family member and that abuse offenses include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, financial exploitation, and neglect.
It was interesting to learn that, similar to other forms of domestic abuse, power and control are usually at the core of elder abuse. I also was surprised to learn that elder abuse is grossly underreported – only 1 in 24 by some estimates! Some think this may be due to fear or embarrassment on the part of the victim or because the victim remains dependent on the abuser for caregiving or other assistance. One way we can help is to simply check in with our elderly friends and family members if we haven’t heard from them in a while. You may just be the lifeline that person needs.
I’ve listed several signs and symptoms of elder abuse below as examples of what to watch for. While one observation does not always indicate abuse, patterns or trends can tell a larger story:
- Bruises, broken bones, cuts, and burns may indicate physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment;
- Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may indicate emotional abuse;
- Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse;
- Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation;
- Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss may indicate neglect;
- Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses or caregivers indicate verbal or emotional abuse;
- Or, strained/tense relationships or frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person may also indicate verbal or emotional abuse.
If you suspect elder abuse, neglect or exploitation, call Adult Protective Services at 855.444.3911 to make a report. Staff is available to take reports any time of day or night. A report will investigated within 24 hours after it is received.
To learn more about elder abuse, you can visit the Administration for Community Living website.
Teresa graduated with honors from Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology. She is currently earning her Master’s degree in Social Work with a specialization in Gerontology at Michigan State University. Her Masters in Social Work program is focused on clinical social work; in addition she is also gaining experience in the macro social work arena. Teresa had the wonderful opportunity to study Comparative Social Policy in Finland through Michigan State University’s Study Abroad program and continues to expand her macro perspective at Elder Law of Michigan. In addition to her internship with Elder Law of Michigan and Masters in Social Work coursework, Teresa works in the Information Technology Department at Michigan State University.
As a Student Intern at Elder Law of Michigan, Teresa is learning about its various programs including assisting clients in the MiCAFE program and working on outreach initiatives.