by: Barbara Korenblit, LCSW

Throughout the past year and a half, COVID-19 has brought many hardships to older adults – fear, illness, isolation, loss of family and friends, and, in all too many cases, mistreatment by a trusted loved one.  It is estimated that one in ten older adults is abused physically, emotionally, sexually, or financially, or suffers from neglect.  It happens to older adults in all settings and affects all cultural and economic groups. Most often the abuser is a trusted person – a spouse, family member, friend, or paid caregiver.  Yet elder abuse is a hidden problem; only one in 24 cases is reported to authorities.

During the pandemic, many older adults have been more vulnerable to abuse due to their isolation from supportive family and friends, reduced access to medical care, and the closure of senior centers, adult day centers, and religious services.  Many elders have been isolated at home with their abusers, upon whom they often rely for food, medication, and other needs.  Reports of elder abuse have declined since last March because elders are unable to safely reach out for help, and others who might check on an older adult have been unable to do so.  However, professionals believe that the incidence of elder abuse is actually rising – a national survey study in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry reported an 85% increase in elder abuse, and a report in the Journal of Applied Gerontology noted many hidden cases discovered in New York City.

It is critical that all of us reach out to the older adults in our lives – particularly those who are isolated.  Be alert for the following signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect:

  • The older person is in emotional distress – agitated, depressed, or withdrawn.
  • The person has medical problems that are not being treated, or they are not taking their medications properly.
  • They are not bathing regularly, or their clothes are dirty or unkempt.
  • The older person has unexplained injuries, including bruises, scrapes, and fractures.
  • There have been sudden changes in their bank account or banking activities, or unpaid bills.
  • Their assistive devices – glasses, hearing aids, a walker, or wheelchairs – are broken or missing.
  • Their homes are unsafe, cluttered, dirty or in poor repair.
  • They tell you that they are being neglected, abused, or exploited. Take them seriously, even if you cannot immediately see signs of mistreatment.

Help is available for survivors of elder abuse! CHANA, a program of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, offers a wide range of supports for those impacted by abuse and trauma.  Our work with elder abuse survivors includes crisis intervention, planning for immediate safety, legal assistance, psychotherapy, support groups, connection to community resources, and temporary safe shelter.  While CHANA has special expertise in serving the Jewish community, these services are free and available to survivors of all religions and backgrounds in Baltimore City and County.  CHANA also offers consultations to family members, professionals and others who are concerned about an older adult who may be experiencing abuse.  In addition, CHANA teaches professionals and community members how to recognize and respond to elder abuse.

What can you do if you see signs of abuse?

  • Talk privately with the elder. Tell them what you are noticing and ask how they are doing. Tell them you are concerned and want to support them.
  • Call CHANA and discuss your concerns with an advocate, to get ideas about what else you can do to help and how the elder may be able to connect to CHANA or other services they need.
  • Continue to reach out and offer support to the elder, regardless of their decision about seeking help.

To reach CHANA, call 410-234-0030. To learn more or to use our online chat feature, go to www. chanabaltimore.org.

Guest Author: Barbara Korenblit, LCSW

Barbara is the Elder Abuse Resource Specialist for CHANA, the Jewish community’s response to abuse and trauma. CHANA is a program of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore.  In this role, Barbara works with survivors of elder abuse from all faiths and backgrounds in the Baltimore area.  She has worked with older adults for over 30 years, including her work at the Baltimore County Department of Aging in many capacities, including Chief of the Division of Individual and Family Services. Barbara is on the Board of Directors of Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland and serves as the Co-Chair of the NASW-Maryland Committee on Aging.

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