Abuse of aged growing, advocate for elderly says

October 02, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

An elderly woman enters a county nursing home while a fracture heals. A few months later, as she prepares to return home, she finds her son has sold the contents of her house and put it on the market.

She refuses to call police and have her son charged with theft.

An elderly man lives in an assisted care home with several other senior citizens and a care giver. When he loses his glasses, the care giver substitutes discarded glasses.

Weeks later, he still has no prescription glasses and can barely see.

Carol Purkins wove those and other stories from her experiences as the long-term care ombudsman with the Carroll County Bureau of Aging into her presentation on elder abuse last week.

Both cases occurred in Carroll and are part of the increasing problem of elder abuse, she said. Instances run from neglect to fraud to physical abuse.

"A lot of elderly look at death as the only alternative because life for them is basically hell," she said.

She cited statistics that say about one of every 20 of the nation's elderly people is a victim of abuse. In 1991, 227,000 cases of abuse of the elderly were reported nationally.

Nearly a third of that abuse came at the hands of adult children, whose elderly parents will not report the problem and remain "silent victims."

Ms. Purkins, whose job takes her to all Carroll nursing homes, discussed intervention and resources during a six-part course to inform and support those who care for the elderly. Other workshops will deal with changes in lifestyle, health insurance and legal issues.

Physical abuse is not always obvious, she said. She urged care givers to be aware of suspicious injuries, such as spiral fractures or rope burns, which often point to abuse.

"If you suspect physical abuse, ask the elder person how he got the bruise or the welt," she said.

Adult Protective Services can help elderly victims.

"There are laws now to protect the elderly, and you have a responsibility to report abuse," Ms. Purkins said. "There is a $1,000 fine in institutions, if you know of abuse and don't report it."

Emotional and psychological abuse are more difficult to identify.

"Some elderly are ignored, humiliated or intimidated," she said. "Although they are capable, they often are not allowed to make decisions for themselves."

One family said its elderly aunt liked to live a "Spartan life." As relatives mismanaged the woman's finances, they left her in a home with minimal heat, faulty plumbing and electrical problems.

Sexual abuse of the elderly also is a growing problem, Ms. Purkins said.

"If sexual abuse is happening in nursing homes, you can be sure the problem is twofold in the community," she said.

The declining economy, reduction in care reimbursement, inadequate outpatient support services and a shortage of appropriate health-care facilities will all worsen the problem, she said.

One 93-year-old, in a nursing home for 10 years, exhausted her funds. With no physical ailments that required constant care, she faced homelessness.

"The doctors finally defined a problem that needed monitoring, and that allowed her to stay in the home," Ms. Purkins said.

Sessions will meet at 6:30 p.m. for the next four Tuesdays in Room A104 at Westminster High School. Information: 848-4441.

To report suspected abuse, call Adult Protective Services at 848-8880.

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