Isolation Compounding the Risks of Elder Abuse During the Pandemic
Since March of 2020 it has been necessary for older adults and other high-risk individuals to stay home as much as possible to avoid exposure to COVID19. While vital to their well-being, it is not without potential cost for those at risk for elder abuse. Victims may experience emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, financial exploitation, self-neglect, or caregiver neglect. Isolation during the pandemic may be a trigger that leads to an abusive situation.
What types of elder abuse have been on the rise during the pandemic?
Isolation may provide fuel in domestic abuse scenarios. Abuse that occurs may be harder to discover. The victim is likely to be at home most of the time without the usual in person medical visits or even trips to the grocery store or any time to be away from the abuser and seek help. An abuser with strong technology skills may monitor every aspect of the individual’s life. A virtual medical appointment may provide some clues, but the victim may feel threatened by someone not in view of the camera and thus doesn’t reveal their harm.
Self-neglect may be occurring more due to pandemic isolation. An elder may feel not feel safe going to the grocery store and thus isn’t getting the nutrition they need. Family and friends who visited often and helped with cleaning or laundry may no longer be visiting to reduce risk of COVID19 exposure. A lack of a clean home or clothes may cause health problems. Loneliness may also lead to more alcohol consumption, especially for those with a history of alcohol or substance abuse, which may compound many risks.
Scams may be the type of abuse that has increased the most during the pandemic. A phone call from a scammer may be the only call an isolated older adult receives in a day and loneliness may make them more susceptible to engaging as well as continuing to engage even if they are suspicious that it is a scam. Further, many older adults are new adopters of technology during the pandemic to stay connected. As they are learning how to use computers and smart phones, they may be easily convinced to pay a scammer large amounts of money in a computer virus protection scam. As they learn to make online purchases, they may be more likely to talk with a scammer purporting to be from Amazon asking for payment authorization. Some scammers may be extremely friendly to engage the lonely elder.
How can Springwell and community members help to reduce elder abuse during the pandemic?
Springwell has remained fully operational throughout the pandemic and has made adaptations to keep staff and care recipients safe. Elisa Espinal, Protective Services Program Manager at Springwell notes that there are many COVID safe ways to help vulnerable seniors avoid abuse. “Fighting the loneliness of isolation is key to helping many seniors. Springwell staff and volunteers are there to help older adults. While our volunteer Friendly Visitors can’t provide in person visits currently, regularly scheduled phone calls do a lot to alleviate loneliness. Staff and volunteers at local Councils on Aging can also help with engaging seniors in virtual activities while the physical locations are closed. Our home delivered meals program provides important nutrition to home bound seniors and the delivery driver provides a friendly daily check in. The check in with the driver may prove to be the caring link to additional services that are needed. In Home services can help with tasks such as cleaning, laundry, or grocery shopping. Protecting elders at risk of abuse is the role of Springwell’s Protective Services staff. They are trained for COVID safe home visits and video calls to help investigate abusive situations and then take appropriate actions to alleviate the abuse.”
Anyone who suspects that an elder is being abused or is in danger due to self-neglect can report the abuse to help the victim. Abuse may be reported 24 hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week by calling the state-wide Elder Abuse toll-free HOTLINE: 1-800-922-2275 (Urgent and non-urgent calls accepted) or go to the secure state online form (Online form is for NON-URGENT REPORTS ONLY).
Beyond the supports that Springwell can provide, we encourage community members to look out for their older neighbors. Are you going grocery shopping or placing an order for delivery? Call your older neighbor to see if they need any food. Do you have a neighbor that lives alone? Call them to chat periodically or mail them a note or greeting card to let them know that someone cares about them. If you would like to do more, volunteer as a Friendly Visitor or join us as a Home Delivered Meals driver. Kindness matters.