If you’re the caregiver of an older adult, you probably feel good about keeping them in their homes throughout their golden years. After all, most people prefer to stay in places they’ve lived in for decades rather than be transferred to a facility. However, just because a person resides where they wish doesn’t mean they’re completely free from dangerous situations. If your loved one needs help accomplishing everyday tasks, they may face a threat you never considered: elder neglect.
What Leads to Elder Neglect?
Elder neglect can take on many forms[1. “Zero Tolerance Initiative: Common Signs and Symptoms of Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation,” https://apd.myflorida.com/zero-tolerance/common-signs/], including failing to make sure individuals have adequate food, water, clothing, medical attention, prescriptions, and more. And while we may think of such neglect as the heinous acts of heartless strangers, this may not always be the case. Neglect often comes on more subtly and can even be the result of actions by loved ones.
One of the biggest factors in neglect is when friends or family are in denial about their loved one’s needs. They may want to believe that the older adult can still care for themselves in the same way they used to. They ignore signs such as an unkempt appearance, untidy house, and deteriorating health. This leads to symptoms of neglect as the older adult’s situation worsens and nothing is done to prevent it.
Other times, those involved may be aware of the level of care needed, but are unable to provide it. You may be overwhelmed just trying to cope with your own responsibilities[2. “Caregiver Overwhelm: 7 Strategies to Lower Stress and Increase Resilience — One Alzheimer’s Caregiver’s Experience,” September 4, 2015, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrea-pennington-md/caregiver-overwhelm-7-str_b_8090198.html], let alone the survival of a whole other person. You try to get to the grocery store and pharmacy for them when you can, but it’s tough—sometimes too tough.
Then there’s the level of skill involved in looking after a loved one. Fixing a few meals and sorting out a few pills may be easy, but what if the needs of an aging adult are more complex? Helping a senior visit the bathroom and bathe, and performing wound care is outside the purview of many family caregivers. It may also be beyond our comfort level and that of our loved ones if we complete intimate tasks for them. And simply not having the ability to do such things can inadvertently lead to a case of neglect.
Sadly, there’s also the nightmare scenario we alluded to earlier: neglect may be a crime in your state if someone (like an under-the-table health aide) doesn’t live up to their legal responsibility to provide care. Informal caregivers often do neglect their charges—sometimes because there’s no supervising body (like an agency) to oversee them. Others are well-meaning individuals who may lack the skills and experience to adequately perform the job in the first place.
Finally, burnout can lead to neglect. Frustrated with the unrelenting nature of caretaking, people can lash out at older adults. This may involve purposely withholding necessities in an attempt to “teach the person a lesson,” or punish them for needing such care in the first.
How Can You Prevent Elder Neglect?
If any of the above scenarios seem familiar, there are ways to prevent neglect in the elderly. One of the best options is to hire licensed, bonded, and insured caregivers. The agency that hires them oversees their work, as well as performs background checks. If applicants have a history of neglecting older adults, there may be a record of it with the state, which would show up during a standard investigation.
Additionally, a quality agency only hires the most experienced and compassionate individuals to work for them. It also makes sure that the nurses and aides receive state-mandated continuing education. This way, neglect is less likely to be an issue—and if it ever does occur, it’s the agency’s responsibility to deal with it, not yours. When it comes to meeting the needs of older adults, a little professionalism goes a long way.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.