By Ling-Mei Wong
A workshop on elder abuse hosted by senior service provider Springwell and the Greater Boston Chinese Golden Age Center took place April 16 at the Boston Chinese Evangelical Church campus at Newton. The seminar was presented in Cantonese and Mandarin. Elder abuse can be physical, sexual or emotional, said Lili Mei, program director for the Golden Age Center’s Brighton House. It can involve caretaker neglect, personal neglect by the senior or abuse of finances by caretakers.
Massachusetts has 6.5 million residents, with 1.17 million individuals over age 60 representing 18 percent of the population. Nearly 21,000 cases of senior abuse are reported each year, according to April Evans, protective services program manager at Springwell. In the past 12 months, just 15 Asian cases of senior abuse were reported to the Springwell hotline, making it likely that more cases are not reported.
“Please help us reach those affected seniors,” Mei said.
The Springwell protective service hotline operates Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at (617) 926-4100 for Newton, Brookline, Waltham and 14 neighboring communities. For other hours and all communities, the Mass. senior abuse hotline is (800) 922-2275.
Signs of abuse
There are obvious signs of physical abuse, such as unexplained bruises and wounds that cause serious injury. The abuse must be continuous and caused by someone in frequent contact with the elder, such as a spouse, child, close friend or neighbor, Mei said.
Sexual abuse is more common than expected for seniors. While physical signs of abuse on sexual organs are indicators, seniors could be subjected to pornographic materials against their will as well. Other signs of possible sexual abuse are showing great fear around the abuser, or refusing assistance for baths or examinations.
Emotional abuse involves great mental suffering for the senior, such as threats, humiliation, or being hurt through words or nonverbal actions. Sign of mental abuse are seen with depression, crying and shaking. The elder’s health may worsen and he or she may talk of wanting to die repeatedly.
Caretaker neglect involves the caregivers around the senior, or any adult who provides significant care. When the caretaker has ability to take care of senior but does not perform that service, this is considered neglect. Signs of neglect include dehydration, malnutrition, too little clothing, sores, skin disease and a lack of hygiene.
Personal neglect is when seniors do not take care of themselves or are unable to care for their own basic needs, resulting in bodily harm or endangering their homes. This may be due to the elder’s physical state deteriorating or a decreasing level of self-awareness. A sign of personal neglect is falling behind bills and rent, resulting in the senior being evicted. Another sign is an unhygienic environment, such as extreme hoarding or a lack of running water. Finally, gambling to the point of affecting one’s life is another sign of personal neglect.
Economic abuse can involve money and property, such as taking advantage of a senior to sign over the deed of a house without the senior’s informed consent. Another instance is substituting products the senior uses with cheaper ones, without the elder’s consent. Most abusers who commit economic abuse are unemployed.
Reported cases of senior abuse are investigated by social workers over a 30-day period with at least two interviews with the elder.
While obvious cases of physical and sexual abuse must be reported to the district attorney (DA), the DA will rarely press charges without the elder’s consent. As many cases involve the senior’s family, seniors may be unwilling to press charges and seek mediation for mental issues or substance abuse treatment instead, Evans said.
“The elder is our boss. We follow their lead,” Evans said.
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