COVID-19: Addressing Elder Abuse, Social Isolation, and Other Key Concerns

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By now, we’re all aware that COVID-19 poses heightened risks to older adults. The CDC reports that eight out of 10 deaths in the United States have been in people aged 65 and older.

But becoming infected with this potentially deadly virus isn’t the only risk that warrants our careful attention. Older adults face other COVID-19 related challenges, including issues that can impact emotional, physical, and even financial wellness. Reports of elder abuse (the mistreatment of someone because of their age) in its several terrible forms are sadly on the rise. But there are steps we can all take to help support those who need us.

“This is a test and I hope we pass it,” says Laura Mosqueda, MD. Dr. Mosqueda is Dean of the Keck School of Medicine, USC, and codirector of the National Center on Elder Abuse. Dr. Mosqueda shared her worries with us about the health and safety of older adults during this global pandemic. She is particularly concerned about four key issues that target older adults.

Social Isolation

“To me, what’s really interesting right now is that we know that the dangers of social isolation are really significant for older adults. In fact, we’ve been making all kinds of public health statements about just how dangerous social isolation is,” Dr. Mosqueda notes. “And now we’re telling everyone to socially isolate and to practice social distancing.”

Vulnerability to Financial Abuse

Because of this social isolation, older adults are now potentially more vulnerable to things like financial scams. This is because they may no longer have friends or family members dropping in regularly. According to Dr. Mosqueda, “these days, when an older adult just needs to get a home repair or something done, they don’t have as many people around who might be advocating for their best interests.”

Troubles with Long Term Care Facilities.

The number of older adults living in long-term care facilities who have died as a result of COVID-19 is also a cause for serious concern, says Dr. Mosqueda. But beyond that, other tragedies are occurring in nursing homes. “The problem is that the long-term care ombudsmen (the technical term for someone who helps address official questions, issues, or complaints) aren’t allowed into the homes during the pandemic to make sure that the facilities are fully complying with all regulations designed to keep residents safe and healthy.”

What’s more, she adds, nursing home chains are asking to be cleared of responsibility for any issues that may arise from the pandemic. Also, people aren’t being allowed to visit their relatives. This means that certain safeguards no longer exist, says Dr. Mosqueda. For example, if you care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease who lives in a nursing home, you may have more difficulty keeping an eye on their care and well-being.

Caregiver Stress

Dr. Mosequda notes that these are also worrisome times for older adults who are living with caregivers. Because of added stress, caregivers might be already on the verge of yelling or getting physical. “Caregiving is a highly stressful situation to begin with, and now you throw COVID-19 into the mix.” Maybe the caregiver can’t get to their own support group, and their parents can’t get to their adult day care group. Maybe their kids are at home, they’re working at home, or their jobs are in jeopardy. “For people who have an older adult at home who requires care, or frankly who even doesn’t require a lot of care, it just seems to me that the potential for abusive action increases,” says Dr. Mosqueda. “You’ve got people in more highly stressed conditions who can’t get away from each other.”

How to help

One way you can try to keep older adults safe is by connecting with them regularly. If you can’t call daily or a few times a week, see if there’s an organization in the community that can help. Perhaps the older adult is eligible for Meals on Wheels, or maybe you could enroll them in a Village to Village group in their neighborhood.

Consider having regular FaceTime or Zoom conversations with older adults and relatives and friends. Online board games are another option to increase important social connections. (Just be sure to confirm that the platform is reputable, ideally without “additional purchases” or requirements for detailed personal information.)

If the person you care for needs help with repairs around the house, help them problem-solve to find the best solution. Consider contacting the local repairperson yourself, and make sure to get references.

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