Older adults represent some of the most at-risk American citizens because of COVID-19. Many of them are choosing to stay home to lower their risk of infection as the rest of the world begins to open up. With the coronavirus spreading throughout communities and no sign of a vaccine yet, elderly adults are choosing to put their health before their well-being. The American Bar Association (ABA) reports that an unfortunate consequence of continued isolation increases the risk factors for elder abuse, exploitation, and neglect.
Senior adults facing self-imposed or long-term care facility lock-down need to continue to follow health and safety guidelines that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outline to protect themselves. Families with senior members also need to understand the importance of the guidelines set forth for the safety of your loved ones. But what can we do to prevent the elder abuse, exploitation, and neglect that many seniors are experiencing at this time?
What Happens When Seniors are Socially Isolated
Socially isolated seniors can become increasingly lonely, despondent, and feel abandoned during these trying times. These symptoms can lead to severe medical problems, including depression, weight loss, and sometimes self-harm or disruptive behavior. Remote check-ins and online visits during the coronavirus pandemic are a few ways to keep in touch with seniors. However, it provides limited visibility to the full scope of the problems your senior may be facing.
When seniors are being abused, essential services like Adult Protective Services (APS) will continue receiving and investigating reports of neglect, abuse, and exploitation. There are many different varieties of abuse. Therefore, there is no generic template to use as a solution for elder abuse. The National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) provides information on how to report problems in each state. And the APS’s multidisciplinary approach to providing aid and support for older adults includes many facets.
Be aware that, due to social distancing, some APS programs are temporarily modifying how the work. For example, in certain situations, the first contact will be made by phone rather than in person. Some programs may extend the time frame for first contact with a senior unless the report indicates there is an imminent threat to safety or health.
It is an unfortunate fact that many senior adults vulnerable to abuse are isolating with their abusers. If you are concerned, make wellness phone calls and video check-ins frequently and at varying times. If your loved one is experiencing neglect, exploitation, or abuse, these brief but frequent check-ins can help identify problems. Check out these tips on questions to ask to determine signs of abuse:
- How are you managing your money?
- Does anyone prevent you from using a telephone or accessing your mail or computer?
- Has anyone physically harmed or threatened to harm you?
- Has anyone touched you without your consent?
It’s also important to recognize that not all abuse is emotional or physical. Financial exploitation is a large and often unaddressed problem among the elderly. Take the extra diligence necessary in reviewing your loved one’s finances if you think abuse is happening.
Senior Services and Senior Abuse
Caregivers are human beings too, and many experience fears of contracting COVID-19 while caring for the vulnerable elderly population. They may be fearful of passing COVID-19 from one elderly client to another, or they may be concerned about bringing COVID-19 back to their family home. Many caregivers have chosen to isolate at home and take unemployment, leaving community resources stretched thin. Caregivers are supposed to call for backup if they are unable to meet the needs of their care recipient. If you have an elderly loved one who requires caregiving, be diligent about finding reliable workers and/or have multiple backup plans.
With resources stretched thin, it is probable that some seniors are experiencing isolation and abuse because the services they need are not available at the moment. These services may include the basic essentials of life, like medical supplies and groceries. If you are worried, check if your loved one is receiving the medications and meals they need to stay healthy.
Scams are an unfortunate, yet inevitable, byproduct of the coronavirus pandemic. Remind your senior about the potential of scams. Let them know to never provide information on health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, or financial information to any random person or phone call. Remind them that the IRS’s first point of contact with Americans is always via postal mail. If you suspect someone is attempting to scam you or your loved one, contact the United States Department of Justice.
Whether it’s on purpose or on accident due to being asymptomatic, exposing a vulnerable older adult to the coronavirus can result in serious illness or death. If you are concerned, take precautions to keep your senior’s circle of contact limited. Be aware of the individuals who provide their care and talk to them often about the evolving health and safety protocols recommended by the CDC. Remember, it’s okay to be extra vigilant to ensure the health and safety of your loved one.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented times in our country, and it puts extra stress on our most vulnerable population, the elderly. Protocols of isolation are important to limit the spread of COVID-19, but they also increase the risk of elderly abuse, exploitation, and neglect. Don’t be afraid to be an advocate for your loved one to help keep them safe and healthy during the pandemic and after.
If you have questions about elderly abuse, what constitutes elderly abuse, or would like to talk about planning opportunities to protect you or a loved one from financial abuse, call Michaelson & Associates at 702-731-2333. Visit our Elder Law practice area page to learn more about senior law options in Nevada.