According to the American Association of Retired Persons, approximately 8,000 baby boomers will turn 65 years old, per day, for the next decade. AARP also reports that one in 10 healthy adults over age 60 claim some type of neglect or maltreatment — physical, psychological or emotional — and this is most likely to happen in their home by a relative or trusted companion.
These statistics are behind the creation of SAFE: Stop Abuse of Elders, a new program co-administered by three agencies of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. CHANA (Counseling Helpline and Aid Network for Abused Women), the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital and Jewish Community Services (JCS) have joined forces to provide much-needed support and education to elderly victims, their families and professionals in Northwest Baltimore’s Jewish community.
“When a lot of people think of elder abuse, they assume it takes place in a nursing home or is inflicted by a paid caretaker,” said Ellyn Loy, SAFE’s director at CHANA. “The fact is, abuse and neglect of the elderly is usually committed by an unpaid spouse or family member, and that makes it a more difficult problem to handle,” she said.
“You can fire a paid caretaker and you can move someone to a different facility, but it is more complicated when it is a family member,” said Michelle Mills, director of Adult Day Services/Care Management for Levindale. “It can be a situation where a family member is continually yelling or berating a person,” said Mills. “And there is physical abuse like pushing or shoving. But physical abuse for an elder can also mean keeping their walker or glasses in a place where they can’t reach them. There is a lot of controlling behavior just as there is in other types of domestic abuse, but it plays out differently with elders.” Mills added, “The caretaker might justify the controlling behavior by saying, ‘You don’t understand. If I don’t take her walker away, she will wander around and get into trouble. I can’t watch her all the time.’”
Elders dependent on others can also find themselves victimized by trusted caregivers who exploit them financially. Financial exploitation “looks different in different situations,” said Loy.
“It could be a situation when an elder needs a higher level of care and the caregiver won’t arrange for it
because he or she wants to save the money for him or herself. Or sometimes a caregiver gets power of attorney and manipulates the elder’s money.”
Loy said that another scenario may be the elder meets someone who starts out helping them or filling a need but then takes advantage of the situation. “For instance, maybe the new friend says, ‘You don’t need that nurse, I’ll move in and take care of you instead,’” explained Loy. “At some point, when the elder realizes something is wrong, there is guilt and concern about what he should do. Often, the elder is afraid to tell his children what is happening.”
That’s when the SAFE staff hopes the elder or someone with the elder’s best interests at heart will contact the program. In addition to education, SAFE provides assessment, counseling, social services and also provides a safe shelter place that is adaptable as to location and level of care required.
“Whereas most shelters are geared toward younger people,” said Mills, “SAFE’s shelter is especially targeted toward elders who require assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs).” Another difference in the SAFE shelter model is that it is not housed in a dedicated space. Instead, elders who meet the criteria for admission are sheltered at Levindale’s hospital or another skilled nursing facility, if a bed is available at the time of assessment.
“When they are admitted,” said Mills, “we have a SAFE team made up of staff from CHANA, Levindale and JCS come out to do an assessment and create an action plan. For example, we might ask, ‘Do we need to get a protective order? Do we need to stop checks?’”
If a bed isn’t available at the time of admission, Mills said the SAFE house staff makes alternative arrangements to protect the elder. In addition to providing a safe haven, SAFE staff will also provide counseling and help elders to apply for social programs such as permanent housing and Meals on Wheels.
“It’s a great partnership,” said Loy. “CHANA knows domestic violence and trauma, JCS knows counseling and entitlements, and Levindale has expertise in providing a safe environment.”
SAFE is good news for the community, said Mills. “Programs like this have a great impact and are helping the most vulnerable population.”