Caring for our elderly

06/13/2014 7:00 PM

06/13/2014 6:58 PM

Far too often, we learn about situations in which vulnerable and older adults are abused, neglected or exploited. While physical abuse is often more visible, other kinds of abuse — such as neglect and exploitation — can be more difficult to identify and address.

Recent data suggest that at least 10 percent of older Americans experience abuse each year, many in multiple forms. According to a 2012 report by the National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities (NASUAD), 53,622 incidents — including self-neglect, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect by others as well as financial abuse — have been reported in Florida, compared to the more than 16,500 incidents on average in other states.

Abuse affects a person’s health, well-being, safety and ability to live independently — some of the reasons why UnitedHealthcare has partnered with organizations to generate awareness of these issues now, and on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on June 15.

UnitedHealthcare is encouraging 100,000 care providers nationwide to participate in local events this month and is sharing network bulletins on its care provider site, www.uhconline.com.

UnitedHealthcare is also implementing clinical training initiatives that help care providers identify and report abuse, neglect and exploitation. Often, subtle kinds of abuse that take place are the unintentional result of a lack of understanding of how the abuse occurs.

For example, an adult with limited mobility could be placed in a position for a long period of time by a family member who does so without knowing the action will cause the individual harm. Or, a vulnerable person is providing a source of income to a family and, as a result, the individual is exploited financially without his or her knowledge.

As the number of baby boomers continues to rise, which the National Center on Elder Abuse estimates will grow to 20 percent by 2050, more people will become dependent on caregivers.

A greater need for support and awareness of the subtle signs of abuse and neglect will become more critical. Elder-advocate organizations will need to continue creating linkages in the health system among patients, payers, care providers and communities.

It is up to all of us to provide the most vulnerable among us with a better sense of well-being, broader access to quality care in a safe environment, and a good quality of life. Nobody should be forced to live with abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Rita Johnson-Mills, president of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Florida

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