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Chronic and disabling diseases can leave you vulnerable. The ability to take care of oneself can be compromised. It is critical that you recognize and find help if your living situation becomes (or is already) abusive. Abuse can happen at any time and come from any source: a friend, family member, neighbor, health aid, service provider, or total stranger.
1. Name calling and abusive language. There is never an acceptable reason for another person to insult you, demean you, label you, or diminish you with their words. They should not be cursing, screaming, or threatening you. Don’t listen to excuses: “It was a joke.” “I didn’t mean it.” “You’re too sensitive.” Don’t blame yourself for their anger. If this seems normal to you, you may have been conditioned to accept it. You shouldn’t.
2. Emotional abuse. You should not tolerate constant criticism, being told you are not worthy, smart enough, or good enough. You should not be told your opinion does not count or that you don’t have a say in things. You should not tolerate being treated like a child or having to “ask permission” for what you need and want. You should have control over your finances. You are never responsible for some else’s feelings or their bad behavior or choices. Don’t except blame. You should not be isolated or stalked. You should not be intimidated or threatened.
3. Physical abuse. It is never okay for anyone to lay rough hands on you. You should never be pushed, shoved, handled roughly, slapped, shook, bit, kicked, tickled, yanked, or made to feel physically uncomfortable, or suffer inappropriate touching.
Caregivers should look for:
w Flinching at being touched.
w Excessive fears, withdrawal, agitation.
w Refusal to answer or vague answers to probing questions.
w Unexplained injuries, bruises, burns, puncture wounds, cuts, sunken eyes and/or welts, broken bones, sprains, or dislocations.
w Changes in appetite or unusual weight gain or loss.
w Poor personal hygiene.
w Unexplained changes in health.
w Broken bones, sprains, or dislocations.
w Report of drug overdose or apparent failure to take medication regularly (a prescription has more remaining than it should).
w Broken eyeglasses or frames.
w Caregiver’s refusal to allow you to see the person alone.
w Drug overdose or failure to take medication regularly.
w Bruises around breasts or genitals.
w Venereal disease or genital infections.
w Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding.
w Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing.
w Signs of being restrained, such as rope marks on wrists.
4. Neglect. Not ensuring your physical, medical, and emotional needs is a form of abuse. Allowing you to neglect yourself is a form of abuse.
Caregivers should look for:
w Failure to take essential medications or refusal to seek medical treatment for serious illness or injuries.
w Poor hygiene. Bed sores.
w Dehydration, unusual weight loss, or malnutrition.
w Not wearing suitable clothing for the weather.
w Unsanitary conditions: dirt, bed bugs, soiled bedding and clothes, piled dishes in the sink and on the counter, and lack of adequate housekeeping.
w Unsafe living conditions: no heat or running water; faulty electrical wiring, other fire hazards.
w Desertion of the person at a public place.
5. Financial/Legal abuse. Taking advantage of a person who is ill, vulnerable, or has memory lapses is a crime. Taking money they need, tricking them into spending money they should not, or taking advantage of their physical state to harm them financially is a crime. Getting them to sign forms or checks when not mentally clear enough to do so is a crime. Vulnerable patients are often targets for criminals. Caregivers need to control who has access to their loved one’s information. Never click on email links to cards or accounts. Always visit the genuine website and sign in there. Phishing emails are very clever and can look nearly identical to the legitimate source. Never respond to emails about fraud. Always contact the credit card or bank directly using the number listed on the card or your bank statement and ask about the claims or alerts.
There are many forms of fraudulent scams that prey on those with chronic or disabling illnesses, such as:
w Being contacted and told you have won a prize, a donation, or medical aid.
w Being contacted by phony charities. Some pose as similar to or affiliated with actual charities.
w Being sold fake insurance policies or annuities.
w Being contacted by someone posing as a Medicare representative to get you to give them your personal information.
w Scammers offering bogus services at makeshift mobile clinics who then use the personal information you provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money.
w Advertisements for counterfeit drug scams offering better prices on specialized medications.
w Advertisements for “miracle” treatments and supplements.
w Scammers read obituaries and call to claim the deceased had an outstanding debt with them. You are never responsible for someone else’s debts, unless you were a cosigner.
w Being contacted by e-mail or phone and told that you are being sued by the IRS. They would not call you. They would send you written notification that action was being taken.
w Telephone calls from “software” providers saying they need access to your computer to fix a problem. Legitimate tech service companies never call you first.
w Botox scams: renegade labs that create versions of the real thing may still be working with the root ingredient, botulism neurotoxin. A bad batch can kill you. Botox injections should only be performed by a trained technician in a clinical setting. Never at home.
w Being contacted by phone or e-mail regarding a bank account or credit card. Even if they say they are reporting report fraudulent charges or questionable activity, hang up. Call the number on the card or the statement and verify that they did indeed contact you then proceed if it is real.
w Being contacted and told that a friend or relative is in trouble, stuck in a foreign country, or in jail and needs money. If you believe someone you know could be in distress, hang up or don’t reply to the email and verify it through other people. Never give your account or card numbers to anyone over the phone or e-mail or wire money to anyone.
w Fraud can be carried out by legitimate providers, such as Medicaid/Medicare/insurance being charged for services that were never provided, overcharging or overbilling, and getting kickbacks for prescribing certain drugs, overmedicating or undermedicating.
w In general, never give out personal data such as: date of birth, city of birth, social security number, medicare ID number, sign-ons, or passwords, mother’s maiden name, your maiden name, or your credit card or bank account numbers. Pick up the phone and call the legitimate number for the entity asking for the information, especially if it comes from your bank, mortgage company, service provider, doctor’s office, pharmacy, etc.
w Don’t leave cash or valuables out in the open.
w Don’t give friends or family (or neighbors, total strangers) money you need to live on.
w Don’t sign legal or financial agreements unless you have a professional representing you - not the other party - examine them.
w Don’t allow anyone to keep details of your finances or property from you.
w Keep close track of your finances. Question any suspicious charge.
w Set up e-mail or text alerts on all of your bank accounts and credit cards to notify you when activity occurs.
w Pay attention to your account balances. Report any unusual activity.
Caregivers should look for:
w Sudden inability to pay bills or buy food or personal items.
w ATM transactions when the person is housebound or bedridden.
w Names added to services or credit cards.
w Confusion about the details of their personal finances.
w Cut off utilities.
w Statements from creditors regarding nonpayment.
w Suspicious changes in wills, power of attorney, titles, and policies.
w Unnecessary purchases of goods, services, or subscriptions.
w Mail not arriving as usual - it could be redirected by a scammer.
If a patient reaches the point where they have difficulty with self-care, you need to monitor them vigilantly.
Caregivers should look for:
w Make sure you visit them regularly to see how they are doing for yourself. Take turns with friends and other family members if necessary.
w Keep track of their medications, make sure they aren’t being misused or stolen.
w Go to doctors visits with them if possible.
w Offer help when and how you are able.
w Speak up when something looks or sounds wrong.
w Don’t give access to the patient to anyone with a background of violent behavior or alcohol or drug abuse, even if they are related.
w If you are the patient, don’t hesitate to tell others if you are abused, mistreated, or neglected: your doctor, the clergy, a friend or family member. Do not suffer in silence. There are resources to help you.
w If you are the caregiver, report suspected abuse, mistreatment or self-neglect immediately. Find sources of help and use them.
w Lawyers can be assigned to help you protect yourself and your assets.
w Reporting Medicare/Medicaid fraud:
w In case of fraud or identity theft, report it to the local police.
w Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to report the fraudulent activity.
w Contact your credit grantors and financial institutions.
w Contact companies with whom you have financial relationships and inform them that your accounts may be compromised.
w Contact the three major credit bureaus. Ask them to place a fraud alert in your file, so that lenders and other users of credit reports will be careful before starting or changing accounts in your name.
RISK OF ABUSE