A Preventable Tragedy
by maribeth bersaNi
lead in raising
It’s time for elder abuse to come out of the clos- et. While the mistreatment of elders doesn’t make headlines like child abuse, it is a serious
problem, and senior living organizations are taking a leading role in bringing the issue to the fore.
Sadly, culprits can be protected by ignorance:
Many people can’t or won’t talk about the subject. When is a bruise more than just a bruise? It
takes ongoing training to help caregivers engage
in the prevention and detection needed to uphold our industry’s zero-tolerance policy.
The Department of Health and Human Ser-
vices’ Administration on Aging defines several
forms of elder abuse:
• Physical abuse: Slapping, bruising, or restrain-
ing by physical or chemical means.
• Sexual abuse: Nonconsensual sexual contact of
• Neglect: The failure to provide food, shelter,
health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder.
• Exploitation: The illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets.
• Emotional abuse: Inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress.
• Abandonment: Desertion by anyone who has
assumed the responsibility for care of or custody of a vulnerable elder.
Elder abuse is more common than some
might realize. Financial abuse is the most common form, followed by physical and emotional
A 2009 survey found that 14. 1 percent of
non-institutionalized older adults had experienced some form of abuse in the past year. Most
instances took place in private homes. In fact,
a 2010 study by the University of California
at Irvine found that 47 percent of people with
dementia who were cared for at home were
mistreated. The issue may run deeper than the
numbers tell; for every incident that gets reported, an estimated 23 to 24 percent go undetected.
training and Awareness
low, on-site staff and an ongoing presence of
caregivers likely help prevent potential incidents of abuse. Nonetheless, ALFA and its partners are engaged in high-profile efforts to raise
awareness of the phenomenon in senior living
communities. Notably, staff members are being
trained to recognize signs of abuse that residents
may be experiencing at the hands of family and
friends. Staff training also helps to reinforce the
industry’s zero-tolerance policy.
President of the California Assisted Living
Association Sally Michael describes an aggressive approach to education. California communities implement a training video required by
state regulations and then go further, incorporating abuse issues into ongoing training.
A 2009 SuRvEy Found
ThAT 14. 1 PERCEn T oF non-InSTITu TIonALIzEd oLdER
AduLTS hAd ExPERIEnCEd
SomE FoRm oF ABuSE In
ThE PAST yEAR.
“We want to make sure everyone involved in
our organizations has the highest standards and
knows what their roles are,” Michael says.
In part, this means knowing what to look
for—for instance, resident-on-resident contact
or yelling within dementia care. Often, training
also means laying out approaches to interventions and care plans. “It’s all an ongoing part of
regular training,” says Michael.
the Ombudsman Role
In its efforts to address elder abuse, senior living has an ally in the Older Americans Act. This
law creates a mandate for state-sponsored Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs. ALFA’s conversations with national-level directors of the
program validate that our efforts are on the right