By Hillary Hooke
Recognizing the signs of abuse or exploitation is hard, especially when the person you’re concerned about is a senior citizen in your community. Do you have an elderly relative, friend, neighbor or even customer that you fear is being abused or exploited? Maybe you have just noticed some changes in an elder’s routine or behavior that seem unusual or concerning, but aren’t sure what to do.
In any situation where you suspect someone may need help or be unsafe, it’s important to trust your instincts, but there are some warnings signs of abuse you can look for specifically if you are worried about an elder.
For instance, elders suffering from abuse or exploitation from a caregiver (which could include a spouse, adult child or grandchild, or a paid attendant) may suddenly no longer have access to their own debit or credit cards, checkbooks or bank accounts. They might suffer a decline in health if their abuser is withholding or neglecting medications, or other health treatments. A senior in this situation may also begin to appear malnourished or rapidly lose weight if food is being withheld or limited as a tactic of abuse or through neglect.
Something important to keep in mind is that seniors are still vulnerable to forms of abuse such as domestic violence from an intimate partner or sexual assault or abuse from a spouse, caregiver, acquaintance or even a stranger. Elderly people may be reluctant to discuss experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault, fearing retaliatory violence from their abuser, or because they feel shame or helplessness. If you notice that an elder you know has unexplained or unusual injuries, reports being name called or otherwise verbally harassed, cannot make decisions or travel anywhere without their partner, these could be signs they are experiencing or have experienced one or more of these forms of abuse.
Elders are also vulnerable to certain forms of exploitation typically perpetrated by strangers – such as email or phone scams. If you know a senior citizen who describes receiving suspicious messages, such as emails asking for passwords, banking information, or threatening legal action; or phone calls from people claiming to know the elder asking for money, trying to sell products or services, it is important to be skeptical and work with the senior on deciphering legitimate messages and offers from scams and phishing attempts.
Most importantly, if you are worried for an elder you know and recognize any one or more of these warning signs, you can reach out to many agencies and services to receive help. Many law enforcement agencies, including the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Farmington Police Department and Wilton Police Department will do elder checks if they are contacted by someone concerned for an elder in their area. Additionally, agencies like Seniors Plus offer assistance with education around scams, and have programs like Meals on Wheels and the Around Town Café voucher system to make sure elderly people receive the nutrition they need.
Safe Voices and SAPARS also offer services specific to elderly clients. SAPARS offers drop-in advocacy to elders in Rangeley at the Rangeley Townhouse Apartments and in Philips at Sadagee Apartments, and Safe Voices also has specific emergency shelter options for elderly victims of domestic violence at our Martha’s Too apartment in Androscoggin County.
Elders and their caregivers should definitely check out the Wilton Senior Resource Fair at the Wilton Public Safety Building on Thursday, June 22, from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Many local service providers will be in attendance, as well as representatives from the offices of senators Angus King and Susan Collins, and guest speakers will present on legal aid options for senior citizens and consumer protection laws in Maine.
FMI about the Safe Voices services mentioned, please contact Hillary Hooke at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1-800-559-2927. FMI about any of the Seniors Plus services mentioned, please call 1-800-427-1241. FMI about any of the SAPARS services mentioned, or with questions about the Wilton Senior Resource Fair, please contact Danielle at 778-9522.