The Issue of Elder Abuse
On this episode of the LTC Heroes podcast, Carol Silver-Elliott, President and CEO at Jewish Home Family, sits down with us to discuss the ever-important issue of elder abuse and how we can increase awareness of this problem.
Carol starts the episode by defining elder abuse as an intentional act by a trusted caregiver that does harm to an elderly person. This can include physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and also acts of neglect. She points out the sad reality that between 3.5 and 5 million seniors suffer from elder abuse every year.
She says many people witness or experience elder abuse, but don’t have a label, context, or understanding of the issue at hand. A great portion of elder abuse victims suffer in silence and only 20% of those that are able to reach out to an elder abuse hotline actually end up going to a shelter for assistance.
Victims of Elder Abuse
Carol highlights the characteristics of elder abuse victims, noting that most are over the age of 85 and have cognitive impairments or other ailments that make them vulnerable. In most cases, the abuser is an adult child of the victim, which makes it difficult for the victim to accept that abuse is actually taking place. These abusers slowly isolate and take control away from their victims, making it very hard for our elders to seek any sort of outside help.
The prevalence of ageism in our country also enhances this problem because it influences how we perceive the credibility of our elders. In some cases where elders do speak up, they’re often ignored or written off as “delusional.” That’s why Carol says the elder abuse conversation needs to be elevated to a higher level to increase awareness about this issue.
Carol discusses the importance of widespread education about elder abuse for first responders, police officers, and any other community members that want to prevent this problem. She says that we shouldn’t be afraid to speak up if we suspect elder abuse. It’s better to be wrong than it is to stay silent about such a serious offense to our elders.
The Role of Elder Abuse Shelters
Carol shares the important role that elder abuse shelters play in helping victims create separation from their abusers and gain a new perspective on their situation. A shelter acts as a waypoint on the journey from abuse to safety while also being a source of any necessary care.
Carol closes the show by explaining how existing LTC facilities can also act as shelters for these victims. With less than 20 elder abuse shelters across the country, she encourages other LTC facilities that have the resources to offer this support. She points out that many facilities can partake in this life-changing work without overwhelming their facilities. At the end of the day, the incremental cost of providing care for these abuse victims is far less important than reducing elder abuse in our country.
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Rapid Fire Q/A
What is one lesser-known resource, book, or newsletter that you go to when you want to be up to date on LTC info?
If you are wanting to learn more about long-term care, I would start at the LeadingAge website because of the depth of consumer information, not just there, but the things that it connects to. It’s an incredibly powerful resource and a really wonderful organization.
Who is one mentor who has influenced the way that you do care in our industry?
I have had many mentors across my life and in my career. One I remember very distinctly was a gentleman I worked for in my early days working in hospitals. And he said to me, “What I learned is that good people only reflect well on you.” And I’ve shared that lesson many times because I think people in management positions, especially earlier in their career, are afraid to hire someone who they think might challenge them or who might be the rising star. And the reality is that our job as leaders is to grow people, and the better the people that we are, the more that we can leverage their skills and knowledge and really grow the organizations and the work that we do.
I’d also like to mention both of my parents. My mother was a person who turned every negative into a positive. She would say, “Keep your expectations level because things will always be better than you expect.” And my dad, who could analyze anything in great detail, always encouraged me to ask questions, to look for what the heart of the matter is, and what the truth is.
What advice would you give your younger self starting in LTC?