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Spot hidden elder abuse

By Carmela DiFalco, Community Columnist

When thinking about seniors’ abuse we tend to focus on physical abuse only.  We often do not think that psychological abuse is part of the abuse factor.

Yelling at seniors, harassing them, making them feel afraid, confusing them, treating them like children, or ignoring their needs are all some examples of psychological abuse.

Often when a senior is in a long term care facility or a retirement resident,  incidents happen in which staff and management decide that covering it up is easier than dealing with the situation. What often happens is when the family reports the incident, staff members explain they will investigate the situation. But often, many places go into denial mode, never admitting that an incident has happened, sometimes not documenting it.

Staff may go into cover mode, while taking steps to ensure no one knows about the incident.

The cover mode leads to the re-abuse mode. During the following weeks, staff may fabricate all kinds of problems and stories that they say have been going on with your family member, which were never communicated to the family before.

The facility will perform assessments, observations and may hire a private duty personal support worker to stay with your loved one on a one-to-one basis. Please don’t thank them for that one.  There is a reason for the private duty, which is to report and scrutinize everything the senior does.

It’s very intimidating when your loved one is the only one with private duty. Of course the senior will act differently, because he or she will feel harassed, belittled, afraid and upset.

The facility will call meetings if the family finds out about the incident, in hopes the family will feel that the situation is being addressed. When you attend these meetings don’t attend them alone. Always have someone with you to be a witness, to take notes about who says what.  Don’t be surprised if the facility’s staff tries to push the family to its limit. The reason they do this is so the family will remove the senior from the facility. If the senior is someone who is not confused, he or she may be deemed a risk to the facility because the resident could report abuse to their families or to the police.

Sad? You bet.

It happens more often than you think. It is important that the family members make notes of what transpires at these residences, and make unexpected visits. Make sure your loved ones have phones, if they are capable of making calls, in order to keep the family notified of any incidents that need to be addressed.

Always be aware when the facility is using the “killing you with kindness” factor.

So please do not be afraid to ask questions.  Lastly, do not be afraid to report any incidents of abuse to your local police department, which has a seniors abuse division. No one deserves abuse, regardless of age. I am not saying all facilities are bad, but awareness is the key.Lastly, make a report to the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care.  We need to stop senior abuse for good.

Carmela DiFalco is an RPN who has held management positions in several  seniors facilities and acts as an advocate for seniors.

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