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June 2nd, 2010
06:47 PM ET

Keeping the elderly out of harm's way

By Sabriya Rice
CNN Medical Producer

Many international organizations will be marking World Elder Abuse Awareness day on June 15, and a recent California case highlights just how troubling a reality elder abuse can be.

On May 26, Cesar Ulloa, a former caregiver at Silverado Senior Living in Calabasas, California was sentenced to six years to life in prison on charges of torture and elder abuse. The Deputy District Attorney, Robin Allen, cites unthinkable charges against Ulloa including, "body-slamming" a 74 year-old woman, diving from a dresser onto an elderly man, and covering another man with a sheet then hitting him repeatedly in the face. In a statement to CNN, a Silverado Senior Living spokesperson said one of the reasons some of the other caregivers didn't report the abuse was because they felt intimated by the defendant, and the residential care facility has since initiated a confidential 1-800 number where reports can be made.

According to the National Center on Elderly Abuse almost 2 million Americans age 65 or older have been injured, exploited, or mistreated by a person they depend on for care, and a National Ombudsman Reporting System survey finds complaints of physical, verbal and sexual abuse to be among the top 20 complaints of residents at nursing home facilities. Experts say it may be difficult to detect abuse of older adults living in institutional settings, especially if the patient already suffers from severe mental or physical illness. Here are 3 things you can do to help:

1) Know the warning signs: According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, all of the victims of the California case mentioned above "suffered from dementia and were unable to speak or report the abuse". Experts say, that's why it is important for friends and family to visit frequently and know the warning signs of abuse. The AARP lists unexplained bruises, extreme changes in behavior, a refusal to allow visitors and sudden weight loss as signs indicating potential physical abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse has a list of other common warning signs for everything from physical to financial maltreatment.

2) Report Abuse: If you believe a senior you know is being mistreated, submit a report to the National Center on Elderly Abuse. Also, the National Consumer Voice for Long-Term Care, an advocacy group which monitors substandard care in nursing homes, offers a list of state ombudsman who can provide assistance to residents of long-term care facilities.

3) Chose Carefully: If you are in the process of selecting a nursing home, Medicare.gov provides detailed information and quality ratings for facilities certified through Medicare and Medicaid. They also provide a link to alternatives to nursing home care. You can also check out this this state-by-state list of nursing home staffing and standard regulations.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Bernardo Moreno Jr.

    I just happen to flip the channel and your report on the fishermen and their symptoms caught my attention. Im a former automotive painter and believe those mens symptoms are the cause of inhaling those fumes of the oil and other chemicals. I've known other painters who have had to quit at a young age and had similar symptoms. Some of them have life time illnesses that have changed their lives forever. Some go into seizures and kinda of get allergic reactions when they get near chemicals. I my self Im starting to notice when I get near chemicals that have any type of smell I start to get sick. And I've known of some who have gotten total nerve damage and doctors have no clue of what might be causing the problems.

    June 3, 2010 at 01:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Elder Depot

    This article offers some solid basic guidance on elder abuse but it could use some expansion... For example, it doesn't actually explain what elder abuse is. It's very clear that what Cesar Ulloa did was elder abuse. But what about the granddaughter who would take her grandmom suffering from dementia to the bank to withdraw money for her? That's not only more murky, its more prevalent.

    Here's an excerpt from a blog I wrote on the subject.
    "Most of us have heard shocking stories of elders subjected to immense cruelty by those responsible for caring for them. These stories often feature a villain, a monster of a person motivated by rage, greed, or sadism. The alcoholic son-in-law who screamed obscenities, the daughter who gambled away all of dad’s savings, or the nursing home staff who enjoys brutally manhandling clients. These “villains” do exist and must be guarded against – but they are not the only perpetrators of elder abuse.

    The fact is that if we’re only expecting a monster to be abusive we can overlook obvious signs of abuse committed by friends, family, or dedicated staff, decent well-meaning people who cross the line. How could decent well-meaning people do such things? Frustration, burnout, and desperation can also motivate Elder Abuse. The son who, already late for work, cursed out his dad for soiling himself again and who screamed that he wished he would just die already. The staff, the sole breadwinner for her family after her husband lost his job, who tricks her client into paying her twice so she can make ends meet. The husband who roughly shakes his wife, suffering from dementia, and knocks her to the floor breaking her hip. Even loving caregivers can push themselves too far and become abusive, often without even realizing the full implications of what they’re doing until its gone too far.

    The most common perpetrators of elder abuse are family. Don’t make the mistake of refusing to recognize obvious signs of elder abuse until you see a monster; even loving caregivers can cross the line. Always act in the best interest of the victim. Stop the abuse. No excuses, no rationalizations, no justifications. Stop the abuse."

    Here's some more information that should be useful.

    What are signs of Elder Abuse?
    * Signs of Physical Abuse: Any type of unexplained injury.
    * Signs of Neglect: Filth, pressure sores, malnutrition, dehydration.
    * Signs of Emotional Abuse: Sudden unexplained changes in behavior. Difficult to determine in cases of dementia.
    * Signs of Sexual Abuse: Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases and bruises around genital areas.
    * Signs of Financial Abuse: Unexplained changes in finances, unexplained changes in wills or trusts, and loss of property.

    What are some concrete steps Caregivers can take to avoid becoming abusive?
    * Caregivers should: take care of their physical, mental, and financial health before accepting the responsibility of a caregiver.
    * Caregivers should: seek help for personal problems that may impact the person they are caring for; some common problems are anger management, substance addiction, depression, and debt.
    * Caregivers should: join support groups and invest in a supportive community.
    * Caregivers should: share the burden so that it does not become overwhelming. Be realistic about their needs and limits.

    How can Seniors protect themselves from Elder Abuse?
    * Seniors should: plan for their own future by choosing a power of attorney and writing a living will.
    * Seniors should: consult someone they trust who has nothing to gain before signing any documents.
    * Seniors should: stay connected with friends and family. Keep engaged in a supportive community.
    * Seniors should: understand their legal rights and be proactive in defending them.

    Thanks for spreading awareness about this important and growing problem!

    July 13, 2010 at 18:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. dementia facilities long beach ca

    This is always sad to read about but it is true. There is a need for better senior care.
    http://www.brittanyhouseactivcare.com

    July 15, 2010 at 17:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. nursing home care long beach ca

    This is horrible, America really needs to take note of the older community. Senior citizens should not be mistreated.
    http://www.brittanyhouseactivcare.com

    July 16, 2010 at 16:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Beryl Schleisner Elder Abuse/Chemical Terrorism.

    I can speak up, and tell it like it is. What about those who can not. I'm warned to shut to " you know what up et to stop
    writing and taking pictures." That's just to bad. I would not be silenced by these 'FIRST CLASS BULLIES" I'll let the whole
    world know, and some one would believe me.I 'm a former Nurse An Advocate for Elder Abuse,Child Abuse et Domestic Violence.I'll be 74yrs old in July.All Elder's have a right to a peaceful life. I want abusers to get life without parole.

    March 24, 2012 at 22:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Kelsie Lechlak

    Moving to an assisted living community or other senior housing often requires elders to sort through a lifetime of memories, deciding what stays and what goes. Getting rid of your possessions is an emotionally charged endeavor, one that should not be taken lightly.:,.,

    Ciao for now
    <http://www.healthmedicinebook.com

    July 3, 2013 at 07:27 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.