Jewish Senior Life opens region’s first shelter to house elderly victims.
Many people would be shocked to learn that one in 24 seniors are victims of elder abuse, and in 90 percent of these instances, the perpetrator is a trusted family member. To safeguard older adults from this silent-yet-growing epidemic, Jewish Senior Life (JSL) of Metropolitan Detroit has launched the Center for Elder Abuse Prevention, the first shelter of its kind in Southeastern Michigan.
The center will provide free short-term housing for a maximum of 90 days to all individuals, regardless of faith or race, age 60 or older who need respite from an abusive situation. During that time, legal support will be provided, if necessary, and staff social workers will help each client develop a plan to return safely to his or her original residence. When that is not possible, JSL staff, in partnership with other local agencies, will help the client find alternative housing in a safe and appropriate setting.
In Michigan, it is estimated that as many as 90,000 older adults are victimized each year.
“We saw the need,” said JSL Executive Director Rochelle Upfal. “The mission of JSL is to help older adults live with dignity and respect, so we feel the shelter is a perfect match, even though we wish we didn’t need it.”
The program was announced at a press conference on Monday, June 15, which was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. In addition to Upfal, speakers included 39th District State Rep. Klint Kesto; Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper; Kari Sederburg, director of the Aging and Adult Services Agency of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; Michael Stroud, assistant to Lt. Gov. Brian Calley; JSL President Matt Lester and Barbra Giles, JSL Associate Director of Aging Services.
“When we speak to seniors about abuse, they don’t want to hear about it because most of the abuse takes place by people they know, they love or they trust, and they do not want to reveal that,” Cooper said. “In our community, nobody wants to have their children or their grandchildren in trouble with the law.
“Part of it is the awareness, and when we are dealing with people who have physical disabilities, it is important to get them into a shelter and to a point where they are willing to report and willing to come forward.”
The program is funded by a $25,000 grant from Gov. Rick Snyder’s “Say No to Elder Adult Abuse” campaign through the Michigan Aging and Adult Services Agency’s Prevent Elder and Vulnerable Adult Abuse, Exploitation, Neglect Today (PREVNT) Initiative Grant. Other nonprofit organizations participating in this collaborative effort include Jewish Family Service, Danto Family Health Care Center, the Oakland County S.A.V.E (Serving Adults who are Vulnerable and/or Elderly) Task Force and the Area Agency on Aging 1-B.
Types Of Abuse
The main forms of elder abuse are physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse and neglect. Statistics from the National Center on Elder Abuse, Administration on Aging show that elderly women are victimized more often than men, and older adults with physical disabilities and mental incapacities, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, are abused at much higher rates. The majority of these crimes go unreported.
Elderly people with dementia are especially susceptible to sexual abuse from family members, paid caregivers, spouses or partners.
“[Those with dementia] are more easily victimized because they’re so vulnerable,” Giles said. “If one partner has dementia, the sex may not be consensual. Are they able to say ‘no,’ to express that they’re not interested? And even if they are, who’s hearing them?”
The shelter was modeled after the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention in New York, which was created in 2005 by Dan Reingold, national champion of elder abuse prevention and treatment. The SPRiNG Alliance, a global network of elder abuse shelters, also provided JSL with technical support and mentorship.
“Elder and vulnerable adult abuse is a growing problem facing our state as our population continues to age,” said Kari Sederburg, director, Aging & Adult Services Agency. “On behalf of Michigan’s aging network, I want to thank Jewish Senior Life for recognizing the need for this shelter and taking the steps to make it happen for their community. We’re very proud to be a supporting partner in this one-of-a-kind program.”
Awareness and Education
One of the center’s goals is to raise awareness and provide education to professionals and community members about elder abuse as a means of prevention. Upfal and Giles plan to do outreach and training with first responders as well as local bankers, who are often the first to notice financial abuse.
Red flags include diminishing bank or brokerage accounts caused by withdrawals made by a family member who has been put in charge of the elderly person’s money. If funds are being withdrawn and used for purposes other than the elderly individual’s care, it may be a sign of financial abuse, which is present in approximately 90 percent of all abuse cases.
“Financial abuse is the easiest to identify,” Upfal said. “The others are equally prevalent but usually far more hidden.”
Often the victims are afraid to report abuse because there has been some kind of threat or emotional blackmail; for example, a daughter who is spending her elderly mother’s money may threaten to stop bringing the grandchildren to visit if she complains. Sometimes the abuser is the only person the older adult has to rely on for grocery shopping, errands or visits to the doctor.
The Center for Elder Abuse Prevention has a 24-hour hotline, which victims or concerned bystanders may call about incidences of actual or suspected abuse. A report will then be made to the Michigan Adult Protective Services department, which will send a representative to do an assessment and recommend further action based on the findings.
In emergency situations where safety is an issue, the elderly person can stay in the shelter while the investigation is initiated and completed.
“A huge component is that the person has to be ready and willing to leave the situation and seek shelter,” Giles said. “Our goal is to provide support, safe harbor and security for the most vulnerable among us.”
JSL’s new Center for Elder Abuse Prevention is considered a “shelter without walls,” which means clients will be placed within the JSL community that best meets their individual needs. Options are at Meer or Hechtman II Apartments or the Fleischman Residence in West Bloomfield or the Coville Assisted Living Apartments in Oak Park. A partnership has also been established with the Danto Family Health Care Center in West Bloomfield for those who require shelter in a skilled nursing care environment.
Clients of the shelter program will be encouraged to make use of each community’s social, recreational and educational programs during their stay.
The shelter program will provide services that include free temporary shelter, counseling, medical care, physical and/or psychological therapeutic services, case management, community referrals and coordination with partner agencies, legal referrals, spiritual support and a safe discharge plan.
Shelter clients will have the benefit of the same security measures all JSL residents enjoy, which includes an employee stationed in the lobby 24 hours a day to check visitors’ identification and prevent unauthorized persons from entering.
Sometimes the stress of caring for an elderly family member, especially when dementia or other kind of disability is present, can lead to abuse. To help relieve this kind of stress before it results in dangerous consequences, Jewish Senior Life offers support groups for caregivers, which includes information about other community resources that may be able to provide additional services or assistance. Organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association also provide caregiver support and referrals.
“We want to educate the public, to bring this issue to the forefront so it’s not hidden,” Upfal said. “We want it to be a topic that is talked about so people will know how to get help, so caregivers can get help with their stress and, most importantly, so older adults will get the help they need to be able to live with dignity.”
To access the Center for Elder Abuse Prevention, obtain information or make a donation, call the 24-hour helpline at (248) 661-0123.
Signs of Elder Abuse
• Bruises, pressure marks, abrasions, burns
• Frequent calls to 911 or trips to the emergency room
• Depression or withdrawal from normal activities
• Frequent arguments between older adult and caregiver or family member
Neglect, including self-neglect
• Bedsores, poor hygiene, extreme weight loss, dehydration
• Poor housekeeping, dirty dishes and unchanged linens
• Failure to take medication or seek medical attention when needed
• Excessive hoarding of newspapers, mail, animals
If you suspect an elderly person is in immediate danger, call 911. To make an anonymous or confidential report about suspected abuse, call Adult Protective Services at 1-855-444-391
Ronelle Grier | Contributing Writer