July is Elder Abuse Awareness Month

The following is a guest blog from Louise at Aging Care Connections, which serves residents of west suburban Cook County.

 “Sometimes, the only things visible are the tears…”

Each year, July is acknowledged as Elder Abuse Awareness month.   Aging Care Connections is committed to BREAKING THE SILENCE THAT SURROUNDS ELDER ABUSE IN OUR COMMUNITY. Elder abuse is a serious problem, affecting hundreds of thousands of elderly people across the country. Each year, this number increases, as does the seriousness of the allegations. However, despite the growing number of reports, elder abuse is still largely hidden under the shroud of family secrecy; elder abuse is grossly under-reported. Experts believe that only 1 out of 14 elder abuse incidents come to the attention of agencies like Aging Care Connections.  We need to BREAK THE SILENCE that surrounds this dangerous issue. One example of a case we worked on may help to demonstrate how elder abuse can happen.   (Identities have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the victim.) Mr. J, age 85, has four grown children; three live out of town and one grown daughter lives in Mr. J’s home. Mr. J’s daughter has hoarding behavior that has threatened Mr. J’s health and safety. The home has only a small path amid the clutter of magazines, papers, spoiled food and clothing that has been gathered from garage sales, etc. Mr. J’s other children are angry that Mr. J does not evict his daughter and clean up his home; his children have “washed their hands of the situation.” Mr. J’s mobility has declined due to Parkinson’s disease causing increased risk because of the clutter that surrounds him. Mr. J’s daughter becomes irate when he attempts to make any changes in the home and makes threats to leave him. Mr. J relies on this daughter for shopping assistance and meals. This case came to our attention twice. The first time the police informed our agency that the home was unsafe and asked for help in relocating Mr. J and his daughter. The home was cleaned up by family from out of state who agreed to help as they began to understand the complexities of the hoarding behavior. Both Mr. J. and his daughter were able to return to the home eventually; however, the same threats and hoarding resumed soon after. The family again felt betrayed by their father who chose to allow his daughter to “call the shots.” A few months ago, Mr. J’s daughter fell in the home and was not able to get up amid the piles that surrounded her. Mr. J called the paramedics and his daughter was ultimately diagnosed with an advanced cancer. Our elder abuse team was contacted again and began working with Mr. J and his family to consider options, make a safe plan and prevent his daughter from returning home. He now receives assistance with shopping and meals. After Mr. J made the decision that his daughter cannot return to the home, our staff arranged for him to see his daughter as often as he likes using a volunteer organization for transportation. His home has remained clean and clutter free for the past six months. This case illustrates how family dynamics impact elder abuse. There is hope for change in each victim. Professional intervention is critical to the outcome.   Thank you for caring!