Q: We have lived next door to a sociable, elderly widowed woman for several years. Her son recently moved in with her after losing his job. Since that time, none of us neighbors have seen her, and we’ve heard loud voices coming from the house. I have tried calling, but the son always answers the phone and says they are fine. We are worried about her. I know your agency responds to reports of elder abuse. Would we be creating problems if we report this and it turns out nothing has really happened?
A: The scenario you described mentions a few red flags, which could indicate an unhealthy situation for your neighbor. The fact her routine has noticeably changed and your inability to speak with her directly is a concern. It is hard to determine if loud voices are typical of how your neighbor and her son communicate or if this is a sign of verbal abuse. It isn’t clear if your neighbor allowed her son to move in or was coerced and is being taken advantage of financially.
If someone makes an elder abuse report in good faith, they will not be held responsible if it proves the allegations are unfounded. In many instances, a better-be-safe-than-sorry approach is the one to take.
In Massachusetts, the Elder Abuse Hot Line 1-800-922-2275 operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The report is then channeled to the investigating agency where the elder resides. It is important to note during this pandemic, Protective Service staff are essential workers and have continued to make home visits.
We encourage neighbors, friends and relatives to watch for signs of elder abuse, neglect or exploitation of elders living in the community and make a report.These are stressful times and while there may be reasons for the abuse, there is never an excuse.
Are you struggling caring for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our experienced staff are available to offer assistance. Call 1-800-892-0890 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of Merrimack Valley and North Shore.