One of the primary responsibilities of the Long-term Care Ombudsman program is to bring awareness to people about the abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults which includes long-term care residents, the elderly and disabled adults.
"Our goal is to not only stop abuse and neglect that is happening now but also to help prevent it in the future," said Scott Harding, ombudsman program supervisor. "June 15, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. And while our efforts continue every day, we want to observe this day by being more aware of elder abuse, educating ourselves on the causes and effects and resolving to do more now and in the future to protect some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society."
Elder abuse takes many forms, including physical, sexual, verbal and psychological. In the State of Oklahoma, abuse is defined as causing or allowing infliction of physical pain, injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, unreasonable restraint or confinement or mental anguish. It also includes depriving vulnerable adults of nutrition, clothing, shelter, health care or other services that can cause serious harm.
"While many people might consider physical and sexual abuse the most serious types of abuse, verbal and psychological are more prevalent and can often cause harm just as serious, and sometimes more so," said Harding.
Verbal abuse is defined as the use of words, sounds, gestures, actions, behaviors or other communication by a person responsible for providing services to a vulnerable adult that is likely to cause a reasonable person to experience humiliation, intimidation, fear, shame or degradation. While the outward signs of physical abuse may eventually heal, the scars and effects of verbal and psychological abuse may never fully heal, said Harding.
Another common form of abuse is financial exploitation which is defined as the improper use of a vulnerable adult’s financial, real or personal resources for the benefit of another person.
It is estimated that one in 10 older Americans is the victim of abuse and much of that abuse goes unreported. The various types of abuse can occur in the home, community and in long-term care facilities.
"The victims can be our loved ones, neighbors and friends. Often, the abusers are someone the victim knows well and may be their own family," said Harding.
Signs of abuse may include: unexplained injuries; drastic and sudden changes in behavior; unexplained weight loss; withdrawal from normal activities; fearfulness; depression; and more.
"Whether an advocate, loved one or just concerned citizen, everyone has a role to play in stopping and preventing elder abuse," said Harding. "If you observe or suspect abuse, report the abuse to Adult Protective Services and local law enforcement. Depending on the situation, the victim may need your care and support through such a difficult situation. If you have friends and family who are elderly or may be considered vulnerable, keep in touch with them and raise your awareness of any signs of abuse or neglect."
The APS Hotline is 800-522-3511. To find a local long-term care ombudsman, contact Scott Harding or Gina Elliott at the Area Agency on Aging, 918-682-7891. The state long-term care ombudsman office can be reached at 405-521-6734.