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March 25, 2020

Coronavirus Isolation May Heighten Risk for Elder Abuse

By David Godfrey

(The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol 41, Issue 5)

With older adults remaining in place as the coronavirus spreads into communities, the potential for isolation, self-isolation, quarantine and lock downs may increase risk factors for abuse, neglect and exploitation. For those who respond to such abuse,  it is important to follow health and safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other experts since older adults are at high risk for COVID–19.  

Here's what you need to know:  

  1. Adult Protective Services (APS) are essential services and will continue to receive and investigate reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation.  If you observe or suspect something, file a report. Information on where to report in each state can be found here.   
  2.  Some APS programs have temporarily modified how they work. When reasonable to do so, some programs are making first contact by phone rather than in person. With staffing challenges, some programs may extend the time allowed for first contact unless the report indicates that there is an imminent threat to health or safety. This makes details in the report very important. If you believe there is an active treat to health or safety, please say so in your report.  APS workers will be practicing social distancing, hygiene and protective measures in providing services.
  3. Adults who are vulnerable to maltreatment may be isolated with abusers.  The need is greater than ever for wellness phone calls or video check-ins.  Some tips on questions to ask to screen for red flag of abuse can be found here.
  4. Financial pressures may result in an increase in financial exploitation. While it is natural to want to help family and friends, adults should remember that they need to take care of their own needs first, before helping others. Extra diligence should be taken in reviewing the finances of adults who may be vulnerable to exploitation. 
  5. There is an increased risk of caregivers neglecting their duties out of fear or because they've become unable to provide care.  Caregivers must call for help if they are unable to meet the needs of an adult who relies on them. Community resources need to rally to meet the need for replacement caregivers. 
  6.  The risk of self-neglect is increased by isolation and the curtailment of local services.  It is more important than ever to check on persons at risk of self-neglect and provide help with shopping and home delivery of needed goods and supplies.   
  7.  Scams related to the coronavirus are inevitable.  Adults should be reminded to never give information on Medicare, Medicaid or health insurance, or financial information, to anyone they did not contact.  
  8. Exposing an adult who is older or vulnerable to the coronavirus could result in serious illness or death.  This is not something that fits neatly into the typical definitions of maltreatment but the results could be devastating.  It is critical in trying to assure the safety of our others that we minimize the risk of exposure. Please understand and follow the guidelines on preventing the spread of this illness.