ONTARIO – Sons and daughters aren't supposed to hurt their parents, but in about 60 percent of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the abuser is a family member, according to a study cited by the National Council on Aging.
Seeing firsthand how this alarming statistic becomes a reality in so many homes, Apollo Healthcare Services executive director Linnell Allred recently started a caregivers support group in Richland County.
“All it takes is a second of frustration. It’s how elder abuse can happen,” Allred said. “When I work so closely with families on a regular basis, I was able to see that they (caregivers) needed an out. They were trying to bear all the weight on their own shoulders.”
The monthly meetings bring together individuals in similar situations, allowing them to share their experiences in a judgement-free environment.
The next meeting is scheduled from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 31 at the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce, 55 N. Mulberry St. Allred said it will focus on personal barriers and lack of time, energy and resources. September’s meeting will also be scheduled on the final Thursday of the month. The topics will center on ways to make family caregiving easier and more gratifying.
Allred, a Crestline native, recognized the need for support groups early in her career. She worked in Chicago for years but moved back to Richland County to open Apollo Healthcare Services in February. The supportive healthcare agency offers in-home caregivers and physician house calls.
Elder abuse can be either intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or trusted individual that causes harm to a vulnerable elder. In Ohio, the most common types of elder abuse reported are neglect, self-neglect, exploitation, and emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
According to a proclamation signed by Gov. John Kasich, more than 43 reports of elder abuse are received in Ohio each day.
Richland County Adult Protective Services, which investigates abuse, neglect and exploitation of people 60 and over, made 245 referrals between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016.
An estimated one in 10 older Americans experience abuse. Yet, it’s considered underreported.
It took a few months to get established in Ontario, but Allred was determined to start a caregiver support group.
“The support meetings offer an out. In this secure and safe environment, they wouldn’t be judged for the way they felt, and they can exchange stories,” Allred said. “Even in the midst of their own struggles and challenges, they are able to help others.”
No one is forced to share their stories. People are welcome to attend and listen.
“They sign in come in, take a seat, and we let them interject as they want. We don’t want someone to feel forced to speak. It’s if they want to,” Allred said.
The Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging chief of marketing and development Theresa Cook agrees with Allred. The caregiver support groups can lessen the risk of elder abuse.
“(Caregivers) feel isolated. Their free time is diminished. And now, they are in a caregiver role. It can cause frustration to build up,” Cook said.
Finding people who can relate to the caregivers new and often challenging role can relieve some of this frustration, which they may feel guilty for experiencing.
“(Support group members) totally understand what you’re going through,” Cook said. “It’s a safe place to vent … I think, it’s crucial.”
Victims may feel ashamed or embarrassed or fear further abuse if they respond. Some may be unable to communicate the abuse because of dementia or other impairments.
The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse recognizes that support groups can reduce abuse and neglect caused by “the stresses associated with care giving.”
During the Apollo Healthcare’s support group, Allred organizes a drawing for each meeting.
“In their homes, they are giving and giving, and here, they get to receive,” she said. “We want to do something that pampers them, even if it’s small.”
Allred calls the meetings “therapeutic” and “uplifting.” She hopes people will take advantage of the opportunities.
In an interview, she also addressed family members, who aren’t the primary caregivers for their elderly relatives. She asked them to be mindful of the effort others are putting in.
“Sometimes caregivers are not going to ask for help themselves,” Allred said. “They still have a life. They are trying to juggle things.”
She encourages people to offer “the little things.” Allred explains that words of appreciation, phone calls or an offer to make dinner can make a big difference to caregivers.
People interested in joining the Apollo Healthcare’s caregiver support group can register online at apollohealthcaresvcs.com or learn more by calling 419-405-6200.
Those interested in other caregiver support groups – including disease and location specific ones – can learn more by calling the Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging at 419-524-4144.
To report elder abuse in Richland County, call the Richland County Adult Protective Services hotline at 419-774-5473. If after hours, call First Call 211 at 419-522-4636.