Elder abuse: Resources and technology for protection and support

Our article series this month focuses on elder abuse, which is a distressing reality for many senior citizens, manifesting in various forms such as physical, emotional and financial abuse.

Past weeks columns have focused on the types of elder abuse and how to recognize these.

Today, we’re focusing on the resources available for victims and their families, and the role technology plays in preventing and addressing elder abuse.

Martha’s story

Martha, an 82-year-old widow, began experiencing subtle signs of financial abuse. Her bank accounts showed unusual withdrawals, and her once-reliable nephew had become evasive about her finances. Martha felt isolated and unsure of where to turn for help.

Fortunately, there are resources for victims and their families that can help people like Martha in these situations.

Hotlines and helplines

For victims like Martha, immediate help can often come from dedicated elder abuse hotlines and helplines. These services offer confidential advice and can connect victims with local resources.

— National Elder Fraud Hotline: Provides assistance for those experiencing financial abuse.

— Elder abuse Hotline: Available in many regions, offering support for all forms of abuse. To learn more about the best resources in your area, you can reach the Eldercare Locator by telephone at 1-800-677-1116. Specially trained operators will refer you to a local agency that can help.

— Support services: Support services encompass a range of offerings from counseling to legal aid. These services can guide victims through the process of recovery and ensure their abusers face justice.

— Counseling services: Help victims deal with the emotional aftermath of abuse. Martha, for example, found solace in speaking with a counselor who specialized in elder care.

— Legal aid: Legal experts can assist with protective orders and legal proceedings. Martha was able to work with a legal aid organization to reclaim control over her finances and take action against her nephew.

— Financial assistance: Financial abuse can leave elders like Martha in precarious situations. There are organizations and programs designed to offer financial assistance and guidance.

— Financial management programs: These programs help elders manage their finances securely. Martha was introduced to a financial management service that provided her with the support she needed to regain control.

— Emergency funds: Some non-profits offer emergency funds for immediate financial relief, ensuring that victims can meet their basic needs while their cases are being resolved.

— Shelters and safe housing: In severe cases, victims may need to leave their homes to ensure their safety.

— Elder shelters: Provide temporary housing and support services. Martha’s story didn’t require her to move, but many elders benefit from these safe havens.

— Safe housing programs: Offer long-term housing solutions for those who cannot return to their previous living situations.

Harold’s experience

Harold, a 78-year-old man living alone, was becoming increasingly withdrawn and anxious. His daughter noticed bruises on his arms during a video call and became concerned. She lived out of state and felt helpless until she discovered the role of technology in monitoring and safeguarding her father’s well-being.

Monitoring Devices: Technology offers innovative solutions to monitor the well-being of elders and detect potential abuse.

— Wearable devices: Devices like smartwatches can monitor health indicators and send alerts in case of emergencies. Harold’s daughter arranged for him to wear a smartwatch that could detect falls and monitor his heart rate.

— In-home cameras: Discreet cameras can help caregivers remotely monitor the safety of their loved ones. While Harold was initially hesitant, he came to appreciate the added security these devices provided.

— Online scams and protection: Elders are often targeted by online scams, but technology also provides tools to protect them.

— Anti-scam software: Installing software that filters suspicious emails and websites can prevent financial abuse. Harold’s daughter ensured his computer was equipped with such software, greatly reducing the risk of online scams.

— Education and awareness programs: Online tutorials and community programs educate elders about common scams and how to avoid them.

— Virtual support groups: Isolation is a significant risk factor for elder abuse, and virtual support groups can offer much-needed connection and support.

— Online communities: These are platforms where elders can share experiences and support each other. Harold joined an online community for seniors, which provided him with a network of friends and a sense of belonging.

— Caregiver support groups: These groups offer advice and support for caregivers managing elder care from a distance.

Harold’s daughter found a caregiver support group that helped her navigate the challenges of ensuring her father’s safety from afar. She was provided with ways to check in daily, questions for her father that were most likely to elicit a good response as to what was happening, and a local elder advocate who agreed to stop off once weekly to check on Harold.

Together, they discovered that a neighborhood teen had been frequenting Harold’s front door, asking for food and money, and trying to force entry. This was reported immediately, and cameras were installed so that Harold’s granddaughter was alerted whenever someone entered Harold’s yard.

Lucy and John’s journey

Lucy and John, a couple in their late 70s, had been experiencing subtle forms of emotional abuse from a live-in caregiver. Their granddaughter introduced them to a new app that allowed them to document and report their experiences discreetly. Fortunately, this helped.

— Apps for reporting and documentation: Smartphone apps designed for elder safety can be invaluable in documenting abuse and facilitating reporting.

— Reporting apps: Apps like “Elder Safety” allow users to report abuse directly to authorities. Lucy and John used such an app to document incidents and send reports, which led to a swift investigation and the caregiver’s removal after being reported to the home health care agency. After a thorough background check, a new caregiver was assigned and periodic check-ins by both the agency and their granddaughter were integrated as part of the care continuum.

—  Health and safety check-ins: Apps that schedule regular check-ins and wellness surveys. These tools helped Lucy and John maintain a record of their well-being and ensured regular contact with their family.

—  Smart home devices: Smart home technology can enhance safety and independence for elders.

—  Voice-activated assistants: Devices like Amazon Alexa or Google Home can help with daily tasks and emergency alerts. Lucy and John used their voice-activated assistant to set reminders for medication and emergency contacts.

—  Automated lighting and security systems: These systems can make homes safer and more comfortable. Their granddaughter installed automated lighting and security cameras, giving Lucy and John added peace of mind.

Elder abuse is a complex issue, but with the right resources and technological tools, victims and their families can find support and protection.

By highlighting real-life stories like those of Martha, Harold, Lucy, and John, we see the profound impact of these resources and innovations. It’s crucial for communities and families to stay informed, utilize available resources, and embrace technology to safeguard our elders, ensuring they live with dignity and security.

Patti Cotton serves as a thought partner to CEOs and their teams to help manage complexity and change. Reach her via email at Patti@PattiCotton.com.

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