A SILENT EPIDEMIC
people hope their retirement years will be among the best. The 9
to 5 grind is over, the kids are gone, and there's finally time
to make some of those dreams come true. For lucky seniors, that's
exactly what happens. But for about 10 percent of adults over 65,
abuse turns their golden years into a nightmare.
abuse is on the rise. In New Jersey, the number of reported cases
nearly doubled from 1996 to 1999. People are abused in institutions
- like nursing homes and assisted living residences - and in their
own homes. Very often victims have medical conditions that prevent
them from telling others what's happening, so until recently it
was a silent epidemic.
Cavalieri, DO, chair of the Department of Medicine at UMDNJ-School
of Osteopathic Medicine, says the majority of maltreated seniors
are 75 to 80 years old. They're physically abused, which includes
sexual abuse; psychologically abused, which constitutes things like
name-calling and making threats; exploited, which is the misuse
and/or theft of the elder's money or belongings; and neglected,
even though in some cases the victim has adequate resources but
his or her needs are ignored.
Why is elder
abuse only beginning to come to light? Cavalieri, who is also the
executive director of the New Jersey Geriatric Education Center,
says in the last decade, people have become more aware that it's
out there. "It's like child abuse," he says. "It's been around a
long time, but we didn't recognize it as a public health concern
until the '70s." And it's on the rise, he says, because the fastest
growing population is the elderly, who are prone to age-specific
diseases, like Alzheimer's. These ailments cause seniors to eventually
rely on others for care. "That's one hallmark of any kind of abuse,"
he says. "One person is dependent on another."
abuse, he believes, results in part from low pay and inadequate
training of the staff. "As a society we don't value this type of
work," he explains. "Consequently, it becomes difficult to attract
and keep employees. Those who are hired are sometimes inadequately
amount of elder abuse takes place in the home, Cavalieri states.
"Home is not always the safe haven we think it is," he says. "Many
people do a yeoman's job of taking care of a loved one," he says.
"But some find it very stressful, and that's understandable. They
want to help, but aren't sure how." He says there are resources
available to assistcare givers. Local hospitals usually have a list
of support groups, respite services, adult day care centers and
contacts for senior companion programs.
A new program,
unique to New Jersey, is known as Easy Access Single Point of Entry
or EASE. The number for New Jersey EASE (800-627-2727) may be called
for information on programs and services for the elderly in the
state. New Jersey EASE can also be called if someone knows of elder
abuse that is taking place but wishes to remain anonymous. Cavalieri
points out that it is not mandatory to report abuse that is taking
place in a residence, but it is a law that anyone who witnesses
or even suspects abuse in an institution must report it to the New
Jersey Ombudsman's Office.
"In order to
end elder abuse, we must change our views of elders," Cavalieri
says. "As a society, we must respect and support them and their
caregivers. We have a long way to go, but we've got a good start."