Thursday, May 14, 2020
A reporter recently asked me whether I'd been hearing about an uptick in elder abuse cases during the pandemic. So I was interested in the release of this research letter, Elder Abuse in the COVID-19 Era.
Consider this: "[t]he many necessary social distancing programs currently in place additionally create a growing dependency on others for the completion of daily living activities, and this dependency can be viewed as another vulnerability. The documented negative health effects of social isolation and loneliness in old age will undoubtedly intensify during this pandemic, and social isolation has been established as one of the strongest predictors of elder abuse."
Add to that the following:
With numerous “shelter-in-place” orders in effect to promote social distancing during the COVID-19 era, and increased dependency of older adults on others, the potential for elder abuse is all the more heightened, particularly since perpetrators of abuse are often close relations, and as more strangers opportunistically strive to take advantage of the fearful situation to exploit older adults for financial gain. Older adults with dementing illness are known to be of higher risk for abuse and neglect. With the shuttering of adult daycare programs, senior centers, and outpatient programs occurring concomitantly with adult children working from home, the possibility of unbuffered time together may contribute to circumstances leading to greater incidents of abuse.(citations omitted)
The authors offer suggestions to minimize the potential for instances of elder abuse in the time of COVID-19, which need to be
proactively addressed with organized, systematic, and creative efforts. Older adults within families and local communities can be contacted on a regular basis by those who are designated as advocates. Multiple communication methods can be leveraged for this purpose, ... Creativity in the development of resources to address specific vulnerabilities should be encouraged. …
Ways to address the potential threat of a trusted other range from increasing penalties for elder abuse at the societal level to the creation of an individualized safety plan that incorporates the wishes and preferences for autonomy and self-reliance of the older adult. Caregivers of older adults with dementia or other medical conditions … should be offered additional means of support and guidance. To combat rampant and increasing ageism, the perspective of older adults can be elevated by increasing representation on panels with significant decision-making power in public and private sectors during the pandemic. Those who have a substantial social media footprint can be of particular help combating ageist sentiments. Creative community-based resources that address any of these three intersecting domains of elder abuse must be rapidly developed and implemented. ….