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When we think of abuse, we tend to believe physical – bruises, black eyes, awkward explanations of incredible falls or bumps in the night. In our wildest imagination, it’s hard to think of ‘loving’ family members or long-term staff members ever crossing that line, even as frustration builds.

However, when families know there are unspoken issues within a home, they still find it difficult to swallow the concept that those issues will only escalate when health declines or memory begins to fade. “Oh, that’s normal for their relationship,” is not an acceptable justification. When years of these behaviors culminate in an escalation because said abuser no longer can see perceive the situation accurately, or to mindfully regulate him or herself, disaster ensues.

Another ‘red flag alert’ is when we hear the constant belittling, nagging, or berating of a senior in seemingly innocuous situations. It be may even be quiet, but if consistent, this emotional scarring also carries a heavy weight of shame, as self-esteem begins to dissolve and social withdrawal follows.

Elder abuse can be manifested in many ways we wouldn’t normally expect.  Withholding of food and water is not uncommon. Sometimes it’s by design and other times again it’s because the caregiver can’t distinguish reality appropriately.  I’ve seen this played out by spouses fearing their partner is getting fat when ankles and legs swell due to health issues. Family members who are not big eaters can also influence how their seniors eat; making assumptions they don’t need more when in fact they do. There is also the Type A spouse who will dictate what can and can’t be eaten and drunk, just because they can – the power play to feel ‘in charge.’

Neglect, plain and simple fall into the category of abuse – psychological yes, but physical as well when personal care is neglected, and people have to sit in their excrement for long hours. Not turning bedbound, not engaging in warm and appropriate social interaction with those who no longer can move on their own. These all are forms of abuse.

There are others instances we see, but what do we do? We pause, we calculate and hopefully, we all step out of our comfort zone and take steps to intervene in hopes of making it a better situation. Sadly, some intervention helps while sometimes it can make conditions worse.  As professionals, we are obligated to investigate, intervene and report. Ideally, as humans, we are inspired and committed to doing that as well. It’s not about our comfort zone – it’s about what’s right and making the world a better place for every individual, every human, every senior we encounter, whether they can speak up for themselves or not.

Adult Protective Services can be reached at (602) 542-0010 in Phoenix and (480) 373-2176 in Apache Junction.

Elaine Poker-Yount, CDP

Visiting Angels East Valley

Elaine Poker-Yount, CDP

Director of Care Management

Community Liaison


Visiting Angels East Valley, LAS

701 W Southern Ave #103

Mesa, AZ  85210


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