Help Stop Elder Abuse
Florida Law requires that any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a vulnerable adult has been or is being abused, neglected, or exploited shall immediately report such knowledge or suspicion to the Florida Abuse Hotline on the toll-free telephone number, 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873). The TDD (Telephone Device for the Deaf) number for reporting adult abuse is 1-800-955-8770.
Vulnerable adults are persons eighteen and over including senior adults sixty and over who, because of their age or disability, may be unable to adequately provide for their own care or protection. The Florida Abuse Hotline accepts calls 24 hours per day, seven days a week. The Abuse Hotline counselor is required to let the person calling know whether the information has been accepted as a report for investigation.
Abuse may be physical, mental, emotional, or sexual. Neglect can be self-neglect or neglect by a caregiver. A caregiver may be a family member, an in-home paid worker, a staff person of a program such as an adult day care center or of a facility such as a nursing home, or another person. Exploitation means that a person in a position of trust knowingly, by deception and intimidation, obtains and uses or tries to obtain and use a vulnerable person’s funds, assets, or property. This includes failure to use the vulnerable person’s income and assets to provide for the necessities required for that person’s care.
When you call the Abuse Hotline to make a report, have this information ready:
- Victim’s name, address or location, approximate age, race, and sex.
- A brief description of the adult victim’s disability or infirmity.
- Signs or indications of harm or injury, including a physical description if possible.
- Name, address, and telephone number of any possibly responsible person/ perpetrator.
- Relationship of the possibly responsible person/perpetrator to the victim, if possible. If the relationship is unknown, a report may still meet requirements for investigation.
- As the reporter, your name, address, and telephone number. This information is never given out. The reporter may choose to remain anonymous.
The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) is responsible for providing services to detect and correct abuse, neglect, and exploitation of adults. This must be done so as to place the fewest possible restrictions on personal liberty and constitutional rights. In other words, DCF cannot forcibly remove a competent adult from a situation he or she refuses to leave. Some elders are unwilling to leave an abusive situation or to press charges against family members. Only if the person is found to be mentally impaired enough that judgment and decision making are impaired can the worker intervene to protect the person against his or her will. Law enforcement takes the lead in all criminal investigations and prosecutions for abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a vulnerable adult by another person.
Groups most at risk for elder abuse include:
- Older women are most commonly reported. Older men may be just as much or even more at risk but are less frequently reported.
- The higher the age, the greater the risk.
- Those who live with a caregiver or depend on someone for care and assistance.
- Physically frail or disabled.
- Confused, disoriented, or mentally impaired.
Individual characteristics include:
- Very loyal to the caregiver. Willing to accept blame.
- Socially isolated and history of poor relationship with caregiver.
- Alcohol, medication, or drug abuse.
- Has illness that causes behavior that is stressful for caregiver (verbal outbursts, incontinence, wandering, agitation).
- Displays behavior that provokes caregiver (ungrateful, overly-demanding, unpleasant).
The more of the following observable indicators are present, the greater the risk:
- Physical indicators such as bruises, burns, unexplained fractures, bedsores, being dirty and unkempt, inadequate clothing, showing evidence of malnutrition.
- Behavioral indicators such as being nervous or agitated, avoiding eye contract, hesitant to talk openly, depressed or despairing, feeling hopeless, withdrawn, denying problems, covering up for caregiver, confused or disoriented, suspicious.
- Environmental indicators such as dirty, cramped, unsanitary living space with inadequate light, heat, or cooling; health and safety hazards such as doors with no locks, rodents or insects, open space heaters, broken plumbing, no water or electricity, fire hazards, repairs needed to roof, stairs, railing; and questionable care as evidenced by lack of food, medicine not managed, soiled bedding, or patient is restrained.
- Many times the abuser is a family member who is providing unpaid care to the vulnerable person.
A caregiver is more at risk of being an abuser if he or she:
- Has personal problems such as alcohol or medication abuse, mental or emotional illness, physical health problems, or low self-esteem.
- Was abused as a child, grew up in a household where violence was used to resolve disputes, or has a history of conflict with the older person.
- Is experiencing stresses such as marital conflict, unemployment, economic problems, lack of activities outside the home, or caring for both parents and children.
- Lacks experience and skills as a caregiver, does not understand the older person’s disease, has little support from other family members, or has unrealistic expectations for being a caregiver.
Observable factors that could indicate that abuse by a caregiver is happening include:
- Not letting the older person speak for himself/herself or have a conversation without the caregiver present.
- Family members blaming the older person for being a burden or perceiving symptoms of a disease as intentional behavior.
- Conflicting accounts of an incident by family members and the victim.
- Caregiver is financially dependent on the older person.
- Older person lives in overcrowded environment with caregiver and is socially isolated outside the family.
Some of the risk factors for abuse by caregivers can be changed through caregiver education and support. The Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas, Inc. (AAAPP) offers two caregiver programs, but caregivers most in need of this help may be the ones least likely to hear about and accept assistance. It is up to all of us to inform caregivers we know and to encourage them to ask for support to preserve their own health and allow them to provide care longer with less risk of abuse or neglect.
To learn how to prevent caregiver burnout that can lead to abuse if there is no relief, see Stage Three, section 1. For ways to cool down immediately and the telephone numbers of several crisis counseling and prayer lines available 24 hours a day, see Stage Three, section 2. “Avoiding Abuse” is near the end of that section.
Resources for Victims of Spouse Abuse:
- If you are in immediate physical danger, call 9-1-1 for the police.
- Community Action Stops Abuse (CASA). This organizationis located in St. Petersburg, Florida and serves southern Pinellas County. CASA provides a 24-hour crisis line, 727-895-4912. CASA also provides support, advocacy, safety planning, shelter, etc. For more information about CASA, visit the CASA web site, www.casa-stpete.org.
- The Haven of RCS is located in Clearwater and provides safety, support, and education for victims of domestic violence in northeren Pinellas County. For those in immediate danger, The Haven offers a 24 hour Safe House where victims and their children can reside in safety. The Haven of RCS can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 727-442-4128. (TTY is 727-446-2149.) For more information visit the RCS website at www.rcspinellas.org. For callers outside the area, call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) and you will be connected to a domestic violence program in your area.
- Florida Domestic Violence Hotline. Call toll-free 1-800-500-1119.