As some of the most vulnerable Americans to the COVID-19 pandemic, older adults are staying at home to lower their risk of infection as the coronavirus spreads throughout the country. The American Bar Association (ABA) reports that an unfortunate outgrowth from this isolation is an increase in risk factors for elder abuse, exploitation, and neglect. Senior adults in self-imposed or long-term care facility lock-down need to follow health and safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to protect themselves. Also, if you have a senior family member, you need to understand the guidelines set forth for the protection of your loved one.
Socially isolated seniors can become increasingly lonely, despondent, and feel abandoned. These feelings are a medical problem in their own right, because they can lead to depression, weight loss, and sometimes self-harm or disruptive behavior. Remote monitoring and online social interaction during the coronavirus pandemic are the few ways to stay actively "in touch." Yet, it provides limited visibility to the full scope of the problems your senior may be facing.
Essential services like Adult Protective Services (APS) will continue receiving and investigating reports of neglect, abuse, and exploitation. APS is a "distributed system" approach, typically handled via local or state health, aging, and regulatory departments. Abuse occurs in many ways, so there is no generic template to employ as a solution. Therefore, a multidisciplinary approach provides aid and support to older adults. Information as to where to report problems in each state is online at the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA). Maine's Adult Protective Services office is in the Department of Health and Human Services and can be contacted at 1-800-624-8404.
Beware that because of social distancing protocols, some APS programs are temporarily modifying how they work. In situations when it is reasonable to do so, the first contact will be made by phone rather than in person. Some programs may extend the time frame for the first contact to meet staffing challenges unless the report indicates there is an imminent threat to safety or health. If this is your circumstance, be specific in reporting that your situation is dire.
It is a sad fact that often adults who are vulnerable to abuse are isolating with their abusers. Wellness phone calls and video check-ins should occur frequently and at varying times to identify if your loved one is experiencing neglect, exploitation, or abuse. Tips on specific questions to ask that raise red flags, or signs of abuse are online at the American Bar Association (ABA) website. Recognize that not all abuse is emotional or physical. Financial exploitation is a rampant problem among the elderly, so extra diligence is required in reviewing your loved one's finances. Remind your senior that while it is natural to want to help family and friends experiencing financial problems, they must first take care of themselves.
Caregivers are human beings, too, and many experience fears of contracting COVID-19 while caring for the vulnerable elderly population. Some have found the financial rewards of unemployment more beneficial than work as it allows them to remain at home in isolation with their own family. Caregivers should call for backup if they are unable to meet the needs of their care recipient. Community resources are stretched thin during COVID-19, so if you have a loved one who requires care, be sure to have a reliable worker or have multiple backup plans.
It is reasonable to assume that all local services for seniors are overwhelmed trying to meet their needs and that self-neglect may stem from a senior who cannot get the services that they require and give up trying. These services include the basics of life, like needed medical supplies and groceries. Check if your loved one is receiving the medications and meals they need to keep them healthy.
Scams are an unfortunate yet inevitable byproduct of the coronavirus pandemic. Remind your senior never to provide information on health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, or financial information to anyone with whom they did not generate contact. Remind them that the IRS's first point of contact with Americans is always via postal mail. Contact the United States Department of Justice at their website if you suspect a scammer is targeting you or your loved one.
Exposing a vulnerable older adult to the coronavirus, either intentionally or unintentionally, can result in serious illness or death. Make sure you keep your senior's circle of contact extremely limited, keep track of all individuals who provide care, and talk to them often about the protocols they follow to ensure your loved one's health. Vigilance about the health of your senior and their caregiver is essential to lower the risk of contracting the virus.
The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way Americans interact, and it puts extra stress on our most vulnerable population, the elderly. Protocols of isolation are useful to limit the spread of the coronavirus but also increase the risk of elderly abuse, exploitation, and neglect. Be an advocate and protective force for your loved one by raising your awareness of how this pandemic increases their risks.
If you have questions or need guidance in your planning or planning for a loved one, please do not hesitate to contact our office by calling us at (207) 377-6966.