Elder Abuse Awareness Day Is June 15th: Do you know the signs?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations (UN) launched the first World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on June 15, 2006 in an effort to unite communities around the world in raising awareness about elder abuse. WEAAD is in support of the UN’s International Plan of Action acknowledging the significance of elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue. Click here to read more.

Know the signs
While one sign does not necessarily indicate abuse, some indicators that there could be a problem are:

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also signs. 

It’s important to remain alert. The suffering is often in silence. If you notice changes in personality, behavior, or physical condition, you should start to question what is going on.

Tragically, sometimes elders neglect their own care, which can lead to illness or injury. Self-neglect is one of the most frequently reported concerns brought to adult protective services. Oftentimes, the problem is paired with declining health, isolation, Alzheimer's disease or dementia, or drug and alcohol dependency. 

Self-neglect can include behaviors such as:

  • Hoarding of objects, newspapers/magazines, mail/paperwork, etc., and/or animal hoarding to the extent that the safety of the individual (and/or other household or community members) is threatened or compromised
  • Failure to provide adequate food and nutrition for oneself
  • Failure to take essential medications or refusal to seek medical treatment for serious illness
  • Leaving a burning stove unattended
  • Poor hygiene
  • Not wearing suitable clothing for the weather
  • Confusion
  • Inability to attend to housekeeping
  • Dehydration

How to report abuse in Ohio
Ohio state law requires that county Adult Protective Service (APS) departments investigate alleged cases of abuse of people age 60 and older, as well as disabled and other vulnerable adults. APS offices are generally part of county Departments of Job and Family Services.

If you have reasonable cause to suspect that an older person is being abused, contact your county APS office. Learn how to report elder abuse in your county.

Additionally, Ohio law includes a list of professionals and caregivers who are required to file reports with APS if they have reasonable cause to believe an adult is being abused, neglected, or exploited, or is in a condition which is the result of abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Any person who makes a report, testifies, or acts responsibly in their official duties is immune from civil and criminal liability unless they acted in bad faith or with malicious purpose. (ORC 5101.61 http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/5101.61)

APS funding in Ohio
Ohio relies largely on federal and local sources for adult protective services funding. As a result, funding and staffing levels for APS services vary widely across the state. The state’s general revenue fund is the only funding source used by all of Ohio’s 88 counties for APS services. Historically, the highest funding level ever allocated in Ohio’s budget for Adult Protective Services was $2.8 million in SFY 1989. Nearly 30 years later, APS is funded in Ohio’s budget at $2.6 million – or $30,000 per county. At this funding rate, many counties lack even one full-time APS caseworker.

Recent statewide investments in the APS system were well-intended but have fallen short of the mark:

  • In 2015, the General Assembly appropriated $10 million in one-time funds. Little more than half was distributed to counties, mostly in the form of onetime APS capacity and innovation grants.
  • In 2016, HB 64 introduced statewide APS standards and requirements. As a result of these new statewide mandates, Area Agencies on Aging, on the front lines and in the homes of seniors, have witnessed a substantial increase in outreach and awareness, but not in counties’ capacity to take reports and conduct investigations.

According to Policy Matters Ohio, $65,000 per county is needed to support at least one full-time APS caseworker. At 25 cases per worker, $15 million per year is needed to adequately staff county APS offices and protect vulnerable older adults. The Governor’s budget for 2018-19 flat-funds APS at $2.6 million per year. Read more at Policy Matters Ohio.

Advocates in Ohio, including the Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging (O4A), are urging Ohio leaders to increase APS funding across the state. O4A and its partners are asking lawmakers to support an appropriation of at least $10 million per year to ensure county agencies can hire at least one full-time staff person, and provide additional resources needed for outreach, education and services.