Neglect is a form of elder abuse that may not always seem obvious to the casual observer: Failing to give care recipients their medication or not administering it as prescribed. Leaving older adults, who cannot take care of their own bathing, feeding, dressing and toileting needs, home alone. Allowing them to live in a filthy house or hoarding situation.
Many times, it’s the result of passive neglect—caregivers not understanding how to take care of the older adults they’re in charge of, said Diana Lozano, coordinator/supervisor with DuPage County Adult Protective Services (APS) in Wheaton, Illinois.
“We only hear, ‘Don’t leave children home alone,’ but we don’t hear, ‘Don’t leave older adults who have severe disabilities home alone,’” she explained. “How are they going to get food? Do they have access to a phone in case of emergency? Are they very confused? Can they get out of the home and wander, or turn on the stove and leave it on?”
Passive neglect puts care recipients at risk of serious injuries or death. Still, older adults are often hesitant to seek help when a neglectful caregiver is a relative or close friend because they fear law enforcement will become involved, she said. However, law enforcement only steps in when it’s a criminal neglect situation or the care recipient has died under suspicious circumstances.
Leading with care recipients’ best interests in mind, Lozano and her colleague, caseworker Regina Scarpace, will present “Passive Neglect: Your Role as a Family Caregiver” at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 16 via Zoom. During the hour-long webinar, they will explain passive neglect and other types of abuse, such as financial, sexual and emotional abuse, as well as willful deprivation, abandonment, physical abuse and self-neglect. The event will also outline the responsibilities of caregivers and guardians when older family members lose their independence.
In 2020, APS received 3,543 reports of passive neglect in Illinois, but not all reports are actual cases of neglect, Lozano explained. After a caseworker visits the home and interviews the care recipient, they may determine that neglect is not happening after all.
“We work on what the client wants,” she said. “If the client is alert and oriented, it is up to them if they want us to continue with the investigation and interview other [witnesses to the neglect] or if they want us to make referrals for services.”
The county also provides older adults with a variety of other services to help keep them safe and happy while living independently, such as:
· An emergency home response button (Similar to Life Alert, the device is worn as a necklace or bracelet. In an emergency, the older adult can press the button to automatically call 911 and, if need be, summon the fire department.)
· Warm, home-delivered meals regardless of finances
· Discounted transportation services via taxi or Pace Bus
· Referrals to adult day centers that offer activities and a chance to socialize with peers
If the older adult is not alert and oriented due to dementia or other health issues that prevent them from making their own decisions, the agency first tries to educate the caregiver on providing adequate care. If the caregiver refuses to oblige, the caseworker tries to find another family member willing to replace them. If nobody is willing or available, they proceed to a referral for guardianship and, depending on the older adult’s finances, look for private in-home caregivers or a nursing home placement.
DuPage County APS works in partnership with the Illinois Department on Aging to resolve abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of adults ages 60 or older, as well as adults with disabilities ages 18 to 59. To sign up for the webinar, go to Webinar Registration – Zoom.