I want to continue our discussion on elder abuse by reiterating our responsibility to the seniors in the community.
We feel an innate responsibility to help a lost child in a store reconnect with her parents. In the same way, we should feel protective of the vulnerable older adults in our community.
The man being yelled at in your local store is somebody’s grandparent. The woman being cheated out of her life savings is somebody’s mom. Each senior is a valuable member of our community.
It’s our responsibility to speak up when we witness or suspect a senior is being abused or neglected.
The National Institute on Aging doesn’t limit abuse to physical harm. Abuse may be emotional or sexual. It may mean a caregiver is not responding to the person’s needs or abandoning someone who can’t care for themselves on their own. Abuse includes taking advantage of someone financially or using their resources without their permission.
How can we step into the gap on behalf of seniors? The solutions are simple, though they may not be easy.
1. Listen to seniors
The first step is to take time to listen to the senior’s perspective.
Too often in our culture, seniors are dismissed. In the heat of the moment, an older person might seem irrational. They might come off as racist or prejudiced.
Erratic behavior could be a flag for a deeper issue, such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or another medical condition.
Or it might be that the senior feels helpless, unheard and ignored. Perhaps they believe that creating a scene is the only way to direct attention to their neglected needs.
Take a step back and ask yourself: “How can I be a solution instead of an aggressor?”
Listening is a powerful solution for two reasons. First, spending time with a person who is lonely helps them feel valued.
Second, taking time to view the world from the senior’s perspective empowers you with knowledge to take the next step on their behalf.
2. Advocate for seniors’ needs
We’re all charged to advocate for seniors. Advocacy doesn’t have to be complicated. It can simply involve ensuring that a senior is well cared for.
Often, advocacy is following through to make sure a senior’s requests are heard. I think of how Lore and Yanina spoke up on behalf of their friend Dominic to help him find slippers or make sure he got cleaned up and shaved.
Advocacy can be as simple as helping a senior navigate a website so they can access insurance benefits. It can mean helping them call a friend from their iPad.
Simply put, advocates amplify the voice of seniors.
3. Report the abuse
If you witness abuse against a senior, follow the example of one of our volunteers and report the problem.
Our volunteer saw the poor treatment of a senior she was visiting in a care center. She explained the problem to the supervisors at the center. When they didn’t react, she told the senior’s care manager, who rightly redirected her to the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration, or AHCA.
AHCA oversees state health care facilities. They came in and investigated the center. They made sure that the senior was moved to another facility.
In another case, an employee of a care center was extremely displeased with living conditions. She reported how the center wasn’t giving out the right supplies to allow its staff to clean the facility properly.
ACHA investigated, and the center was fined.
The voices of everyday individuals are powerful forces against institutionalized injustices that exist in some brick and mortar facilities. Your voice is no exception.
If the problem is at a healthcare facility, file a complaint with AHCA at 888-419-3456 or fill out a complaint form online.
For other types of abuse, call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 800-962-2873 or report the abuse online.
How prevalent is the problem of elder abuse?
I personally believe elder abuse is underreported.
The problem is systematic. First, a shortage of caregivers affects the whole healthcare system. On top of that, those working to care for seniors get paid very little for the amount of work they do.
Second, the state of Florida doesn’t require certifications to work with the elderly. Most private institutions require a degree in nursing. However, the training to become a home healthcare aide, providing non-medical care to seniors, is an optional certification that has been privately monetized.
It’s a cultural problem as well. If our American culture gave more value to the wisdom and social status of our seniors, we would guard the care of our seniors more carefully.
At Heart2Heart, we advocate to change those cultural norms everyday. Join our efforts and become a volunteer!