ELDER ABUSE FAQ
Common Elder Abuse Scenarios
1: I suspect that my mother is being abused or neglected by my brother. Who can help?
There are several programs that can help you. First, if you believe someone is in immediate danger, call 911 or the local police for immediate help.
Adult Protective Services (APS) is the common name of the social services program that receives and looks into reported suspicions about abuse or neglect of people living in the community. If you suspect abuse or neglect of someone living in the community, contact the local Adult Protective Services in your area.
The Long-Term Care Ombudsman is the name of the social services program that receives and looks into reports of suspected abuse or neglect of someone living in long-term care (like a nursing home or assisted living facility).
You can find more information about how to report on the “Reporting Abuse” page, and a list of contact information for agencies that respond to reports of abuse on the “State Resources” page. Thank you for your concern about the situation and for taking steps to find help for your mother.
2: I’m worried about my elderly neighbor, but I’m not sure if what’s happening is abuse. How do I find out?
If you have any suspicions that what you are seeing is abuse or neglect, you should call and discuss the suspicious situation with Adult Protective Services, a Long-Term Care Ombudsman, or Law Enforcement. They will ask what you saw/heard/otherwise observed, who was involved, and who they can contact to learn more.
It’s important to remain alert. The suffering of abuse is often borne in silence. If you notice changes in personality, behavior, or physical condition, you should start to question what is going on. Remember, you do not need to prove that abuse is occurring; it is up to the professionals to investigate the suspicions.
The “Reporting Abuse” section of this website provides information on contacting someone to report your suspicions.
3: People keep telling me that I need a lawyer to sort out some financial issues, and maybe even exploitation. Where should I start?
Elder abuse cases often involve legal issues. You might find it helpful to seek legal information and services. The National Legal Resource Center’s directory can help connect you to a legal services provider in your area.
Also, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Inc. (NAELA) offers overviews of special issues such as estate planning; durable powers of attorney; and elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation, as well as information on how to find an Elder or Special Needs Law Attorney.
4: I’m a family caregiver for an older adult or adult with a disability. I need help … what resources are available?
Being a caregiver is a big responsibility with many rewards and challenges. It is very important for caregivers to reach out for support, to educate themselves on the illnesses being experienced by the care recipient, and to stay connected to others who understand caregiving.
For information on resources available to support caregivers, please visit the website of the Administration on Aging’s National Family Caregiver Support Program.
5: My mother is making some bad financial decisions. I’m afraid that she is at risk of being financially exploited. I think she might have Alzheimer’s disease. Are there any resources to help?
As we all know, not every bad decision is a sign of dementia, but it is wise to look into both physical and psychological causes if someone you know is starting to behave in new ways, or is making choices about finances that are different from past choices. Some kinds of confusion are reversible and may clear up with medication. However, confusion may be a sign of dementia. It is important to plan ahead for possible dementia. People with cognitive impairment or dementia are at much greater risk for all kinds of abuse than those who do not have these conditions.
It is important that you learn more about your mother’s condition. To do that, it is best if you can take her to see a geriatrician, a neurologist, or a psychologist with a background in treating elderly people. This professional will run a battery of tests related to memory, judgment, and cognition. This will help you and your mother understand what her situation is and to begin to plan for future care needs.
Visit the American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging for consumer information on dementia, as well as the Alzheimer’s Association for an overview of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
6: My mother is in a nursing home, and I don’t think she’s getting the care she needs. What can I do?
To learn more about the quality of the nursing home you are interested in, visit Nursing Home Compare, a tool designed to provide detailed information about Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes in the country. This will help you understand more about the overall environment of the nursing home, as assessed by the licensing agency.
You should also contact the local Long-Term Care Ombudsman serving the town/city of the nursing home where your mother is residing. Long-Term Care Ombudsman are the professionals who advocate on behalf of residents of long-term care facilities and help to resolve complaints about issues of care. They are dedicated to enhancing the lives of long-term care residents through advocacy, education, and resolving resident complaints. The Ombudsman will help you understand the situation, and if a formal complaint is warranted, they can advise you and your mother on how and with whom you would file the complaint.
7: My auntie was a victim of elder abuse. How can I help her deal with the effects of abuse? She is very depressed and withdrawn.
Many victims of elder abuse believe that they are at fault for the abuse. This is common in victims of other kinds of abuse, too (child abuse or domestic violence). Victims feel ashamed and embarrassed. Often they have been warned by the abuser not to reveal the abuse to others, so they are fearful. The majority of elder abuse is perpetrated by family members or trusted others, so victims feel conflicted about seeking help because they don’t want to get family members in trouble with the law, even though they want the abuse to stop.
It is important that victims understand that they are not to blame. Victims should also understand that they are not the only ones experiencing abuse. Hundreds of thousands of elders are abused, neglected and exploited every year in America. Finally, you and your auntie need to know that many people care and that help is available.
The typical types of help victims seek are mental health and counseling services, medical services/home health services, legal services, domestic violence programs, and social service supports, such as case management, transportation, or home delivered meals. The ultimate goal of the services are to increase the senior’s ability to live independently in the home as long as possible, to reduce their dependence on one caregiver, and to reduce the likelihood of abuse, neglect, or exploitation reoccurring.
For help in finding services in the community, the local Adult Protective Services agency may be able to provide some community referrals, and if the person lives in a nursing home, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman would be a good resource. Another source for information on services available in the community is the Eldercare Locator website, or call 1-800-677-1116. Other sources of information that can help you include:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline tip sheet entitled “How can I help a friend of family member who is being abused? ”, as well as a telephone hotline operated 24hours a day/7 days a week: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or 1-800-727-3224 (TTY).
The Office for Victims of Crime at the U.S. Department of Justice provides tips for professionals in responding to elderly victims, as well as an Assistance and Compensation Program and a website,CrimeVictims.gov, dedicated to increasing awareness about victim’s rights.
For some, the experience of being abused, neglected, or exploited may seem overwhelming, or that they cannot cope. If you, or someone you know, is in crisis or emotional distress please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) (English), 1-888-628-9454 (Spanish), or 1-800-799-4889 (TTY).
8. My sister is not providing the care I would like to see for my mother.
Sometimes neglect occurs because caregivers are not trained to provide adequate care or don’t know where to turn for assistance. Other times, neglect occurs because family members misuse the senior’s funds on themselves (for example, drugs, alcohol or gambling). Sometimes neglect occurs because family members refuse to spend the senior’s funds on his or her care so that the family member will inherit more after the senior dies.
If you are worried that your sister is not providing the care your mother needs, it is a good idea to look into the situation. Familiarize yourself with the signs of elder abuse and neglect so that you are able to distinguish differences of opinion in care from the warning signs of abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Try to talk candidly with your sister and your mother about your concerns. If your sister will not let you see your mother, she could be isolating her, which would be another warning sign. The important thing is not to ignore your concerns.
If you are still worried after trying to talk about your concerns, you should contact the Adult Protective Services agency where your mother lives. You can find information about how to report your suspicions on the “Reporting Abuse” page, and a list of contact information for agencies that respond to reports of abuse on the “State Resources” page.
Unfortunately, sometimes a difference in opinion about what constitutes appropriate care is just that: a difference of opinion. Learn more about how to handle this difficult situation from the following resources:
“Caregiving and Sibling Relationships: Challenges and Opportunities” by the Family Caregiver Alliance
“When Siblings Disagree About What’s Best for Mom and Dad” by AARP Caregiving Resource Center
“Oh, Brother! With Parents Aging, Squabbling Siblings Turn to Elder Mediation” by AARP Caregiving Resource Center
“Family Caregiving: Work With Your Siblings To Keep Your Life, Family, and Sanity Intact!” by Family Caregiver Alliance