How to Prevent Elder Abuse in the Home
According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in 2017, there were more than 700,000 reports of elder abuse in the United States. That number itself is startling, but what is even more concerning is the fact that researchers estimate the number of elder abuse cases occurring each year to be far higher. A large portion of elder abuse cases are never reported, especially if abuse is occurring in the home.
Elder abuse in the home can be difficult to identify. Caregivers may be family members or friends, or home health aides hired privately. These caregivers are unregulated. Outside of family involvement, there is little supervision. This makes it imperative that families are actively involved in their loved one’s care and take steps to prevent elder abuse in the home.
How to Prevent Elder Abuse in the Home
By 2030, it is estimated that there will be 70 million Americans over 65 years old. The rising elderly population makes it more important than ever to take steps toward preventing elder abuse in the home, and in nursing homes across the U.S. So, what can families do to prevent elder abuse and protect their loved ones?
Know Who You are Hiring
The home health industry is booming. Unfortunately, a surge in home health aide workers does not equal a surge in education or training. In fact, there are no federal regulations for home health workers. As for state regulations, consider the following:
- Only half of states require home health agencies to provide training to their employees.
- Only 15 states require home health agencies to conduct periodic in-home reviews.
- Criminal background checks are required in most states, but cross-state background checks are not required.
As for the individual home health aides, research is equally as disturbing. A study published in 2012 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reported the following:
- Less than one-third of home health agencies conduct pre-employment drug testing.
- Only 16 percent of home health aides were tested for basic knowledge and skills related to providing care in a home setting.
If you are preparing to hire someone as a caregiver, don’t trust the information provided on a resume. Do your own research and contact references. If you are working with a home health agency, find out what their vetting process is, and see if they check records from other states.
Be Involved in Your Loved One’s Care
One of the best ways to prevent elder abuse in the home is to be actively involved in your loved one’s care. Be present as often as possible and call your loved one on a regular basis. Your presence and involvement is one of the best deterrents for unsavory behavior. It will signal to the caregiver that you are aware of the situation in the home and will be monitoring for changes.
Your consistent involvement and communication with your loved one will also help you identify if changes in mood, behavior or health occur. Take time to speak with your loved one when he or she is not around the caregiver. Ask how things are going, and if they are satisfied with the care they are receiving.
Know How to Get Help
If you are concerned about the care your loved one is receiving, it is important that you know how to get help. Confronting a caregiver directly is not always the best option. To find out more about the resources available to families who are concerned about elder abuse or neglect, explore the following:
- National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) - The NCEA offers families an abundance of information, support, and resources. Here you can find training materials, policies, research and helpful contact information.
- National Institute on Aging (NIA) - If you are interested in what researchers are doing to help prevent elder abuse, the NIA is an excellent resource. The NIA is a leader in research, and works with the federal government to understand aging, related diseases and strategies for caregiving.
- National Eldercare Locator (NEL) - Helps connect families with quality caregivers and elder services in their area. The NEL offers resources by zip code.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - The CDC offers helpful information and data about elder abuse in the U.S. They also have an abundance of information about current initiatives to protect the elderly.
- Contact an Elder Abuse Attorney - Contacting an attorney can be helpful in learning more about your loved one’s legal rights. If he or she is being abused or neglected, an attorney can help you ensure that justice is served.
- File a Report with the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) - HHS offers an Eldercare Locator helpline that puts you in contact with a local agency. From there, you can report your concerns about elder abuse or neglect.
Ultimately, you can only do so much to prevent elder abuse when your loved one is in the care of someone else. What you can do, however, is take steps of research, be involved and know who to call when concerns arise. Be an advocate for your loved one, and never ignore red flags.
Elder abuse is a tragic crime, and in order to protect the lives, health and rights of our loved ones, we each must be willing to take a stand.
Susan Price is a an ongoing contributor to Nursing Home Abuse Center, covering topics such as caregiving, nursing home abuse, safety, health and wellness, and legal matters.