On Thursday, DHR staff visited the Magnolia House in Oneonta with purple cupcakes and purple balloons to share with the residents, but it wasn’t for a party – it was for awareness.
June 12 was designated as Elder Abuse Awareness Day for Blount County – it is recognized nationally on June 14. For the past few years, Blount County DHR has traveled to nearby nursing homes to help promote awareness.
According to Cheryl Helton, program supervisor for Blount County DHR, her organization conducted 73 elder abuse investigations from June 2013 – May 2014, which equals out to approximately six per month.
Currently, 35 adult cases require monthly contact and follow-ups by the department to ensure the safety of the adult.
Helton says the most common cases are “inability to care for self,” which is more of a self-abuse problem when the elder believes they can care for themselves, but is simply unable to.
However, many others are abused by family members or caregivers whether physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually, or financially.
“More abuse is happening than is being reported,” Helton says. “Many elders are scared of getting put in a nursing home and would rather endure what they are going through but be able to stay with their families in their homes because that’s what they know. Others might be threatened by their caregivers, which is emotional abuse. For example, a caregiver might say to them, if they report them they will go to a home where they won’t be taken care of or will be isolated from their family.”
Helton says she believes elder abuse goes unnoticed by society, unlike child abuse which is continually talked about within the media and society. At the same time, some families can just be in denial about the situation.
“People want to think their relatives are being cared for and sometimes they’re not,” Helton says. “Be open-minded about listening to others. Things can happen, and a lot of the time elders aren’t able to tell us or are too frightened to.”
Besides physical indicators such as bed sores, dirty clothes, unkempt hair, and wet bed sheets, Helton says what an elder says can also be a red flag for elder abuse.
“When you visit them, and they say, ‘Don’t leave me’ or ‘I want to go with you,’ those can be signs that they want to get away from their situation,” she says.
Another possibility is that elders may be isolated from other family members. If a caregiver isn’t allowing visitors, this could indicate abuse.
To prevent abuse, family members need to check on their elderly and disabled relatives frequently and monitor their caregivers, Helton says.
To report a possible elder abuse case, contact DHR at 274-5200.