This is the first in a three-day series on elder abuse, a growing concern as our population ages. In this series, we tell the stories of victims of emotional abuse, reveal disturbing data on how many seniors are affected, and detail the state’s efforts to combat abuse. We detail cases of abuse and the challenges of prosecuting them. We also examine financial exploitation of seniors and how to identify it.
Part 1: Physical abuse |Part 2: Financial abuse |Part 3: The strain on caregivers
Following an argument with his 86-year-old mother about him being unemployed for months, Bruce Inglis threw her down a flight of stairs.
The 55-year-old Middleton man, who had been living with his mother, pleaded guilty in Salem Superior Court last year. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail on charges of assault and battery causing bodily injury on a person over 60. His mother recovered from injuries to her head and arm.
Judge Timothy Feeley ordered conditions of his probation to include anger management classes, a mental health evaluation and treatment, and no contact with his mother.
As seniors live longer in their homes, they are relying more on family for care. But advocates say this dependence make the elderly more vulnerable to abuse.
While there’s a perception nursing homes are responsible for much of the physical abuse and financial exploitation of seniors, the perpetrators are more likely to be adult children, grandchildren or spouses, the people entrusted with their care and protection, according to a National Elder Abuse Incidence study for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The survey found family members were the perpetrators in nine out of 10 incidents of domestic elder abuse and neglect.
“I’ve seen spouses as perpetrators, and more and more it’s adult children who are stealing their money or being physically or emotionally abusive to their elderly parents,” said Carolyn Lewis, a social worker at North Shore Elder Services who works with survivors. “It’s all about control.”
Hiding from the truth
When Diana Mendonca got married nearly 40 years ago, she thought it was for life. But when the retired state worker was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago and her ability to move diminished, her husband questioned whether she was truly ill.
“He accused me of playing games and insisted I get up and walk,” she said. “I explained my muscles weren’t functioning and even showed him my medical records from Massachusetts General Hospital, but he wouldn’t listen.”
Her husband’s verbal, emotional and psychological abuse included placing her wheelchair out of reach, Mendonca said.
Last fall, she had enough and filed for divorce.
Advocates, social workers and police say while every case of abuse can’t be prevented, there are ways for seniors to be safer.
“One of the biggest risk factors is when elders are isolated, and only one person is going in and out of the home keeping an eye on them,” said Alec Graham, director of the Protective Service Program at the state’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA). “Memory problems, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s are risk factors as well.”
One in 10 Americans over 60 suffer some form of abuse, according to the Journal of Elder Abuse & Neglect. Worse yet, one study estimates that only one in 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities.
“If someone is in an abusive marriage, they don’t want to admit it, and if they are being abused by adult children or grandchildren, they don’t want to get them in trouble,” said Katie Galenius, director of the Women’s and Family Abuse Programs at Greater Lynn Senior Services (GLSS). “From my experience, seniors do not want to call the police on their husband or their kids.”
Ways to get help
Graham said one solution is for seniors to take advantage of the Massachusetts Home Care network, a group of 30 nonprofits dedicated to serving seniors in every Bay State community. They provide personal care, housekeeping, transportation, grocery shopping, nursing, meals and other services.
Greater Lynn Senior Services, a nonprofit human service agency created in 1975, provides these programs to elders in Lynn, Lynnfield, Nahant, Saugus and Swampscott.
They deliver more 200,000 “Meals on Wheels” to homes annually, and provide 600,000 rides for seniors and the disabled on the North Shore. Any senior or individual with a disability is eligible for a free in-home assessment and personalized package of information.
Home care services are available for anyone over 60. If the person is under 60 with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and in need of respite services, they are also eligible. Elders must be living at home and not in an institutional setting or assisted living.
Residents who receive MassHealth are financially eligible. The income guidelines require an annual income less than $26,561 for a single person and $37,581 for a couple. Monthly co-payments range from $10 to $152. If income exceeds those limits, the cost can be from 50 to 100 percent for the services. Calling 800-243-4636 can connect you to additional information about services.
“The fact that seniors are living longer and living longer in their homes is a good thing,” said EOEA Secretary Alice Bonner. “The home care program provides a nurse and a case manager and a variety of services that will help them stay in their home safely and comfortably.”
In addition, EOEA has a federal grant from the Administration for Community Living to enhance the Protective Services system in Massachusetts.
There’s also a service that includes a money management program to help elders who need assistance managing their finances. The Massachusetts Money Management Program can be accessed through North Shore Elder Services by calling 978-624-2254.
While there is no single solution to prevent abuse, mitigating risk factors is the best method of prevention, according to Elder Abuse Helpline & Resource Unit. They suggest neighbors stay connected with seniors; listen to older people and their caregivers; intervene when you suspect elder abuse; If someone you know is being abused, call 800-922-2275 or reach out online at mass.gov/elders.
Cheryl Charles contributed to this report. She can be reached at [email protected].