By Roger Chesley
© April 2, 2013
The story of a caregiver's abuse of her elderly client frightens anyone with an aging relative.
How can we protect loved ones who can't fend for themselves - or even communicate that they're being throttled?
And in the worst case: Could they die at the hands of someone paid to assist them?
Shelia D. Beard, 48, was sentenced to more than a year behind bars, a Virginia Beach Circuit Court judge decided Friday. Beard entered an Alford plea on felony and misdemeanor counts of abuse or neglect of an incapacitated adult, meaning she didn't admit guilt but acknowledged there was enough evidence to convict her.
Beard was indicted in July 2011 for her treatment of Selma Cardon Bennett, who was 94 when she died last year. The Pilot reported Beard spent about five years caring for the woman, who suffered from dementia.
The private home-care facility where Cardon Bennett lived suspected something was wrong, and it installed hidden cameras that caught images of Beard punching, slapping and taunting her patient. The footage shocked people who testified in the case.
It probably disgusted them, too.
Such incidents are sure to produce angst among adults trying to provide geriatric assistance for their parents. Elderly people with mental problems face greater risks.
It's as scary as picking a day care center for infants: You're entrusting people to protect innocents who can't complain.
Families that haven't confronted the issue of aging relatives requiring care might in the future. An estimated 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia. By 2025, the number of people ages 65 and older with Alzheimer's could reach 7.1 million, the Alzheimer's Association reports.
Protecting her mother from possible abuse "was a big concern," India Austin told me Monday. Nenar Austin suffered from Alzheimer's, and she had to go into a Virginia Beach nursing home shortly before she died in August 2011.
"It was hard finding help," her daughter said. High costs also were a factor.
Many nursing care employees do the best they can for their patients. They act professionally in situations that can be physically and mentally exhausting.
However, that's not always the case.
A 2001 congressional report found that almost 1 out of every 3 U.S. nursing homes were cited for an abuse violation in a two-year period. "In over 1,600 of these nursing homes," the report said, "the abuse violations were serious enough to cause actual harm to residents or to place the residents in immediate jeopardy of death or serious injury."
Nowadays, it's difficult to know how much abuse occurs. "So often, it goes unreported," said Marilyn Fall. She's the president and COO of Elder Care at Home Inc. and The Caregivers, a Virginia Beach-based business.
How can you do the best for loved ones?
Fall and others in the industry suggest going through a licensed home care agency instead of using a private care worker. The former ensures minimum standards, including that a firm follows state regulations on worker education and supervision. Agencies also must get criminal background checks for employees.
Investigate the agency and the individual, said Sonya Barsness, a consultant who runs her own Norfolk-based gerontology business.
"I tell families to be as involved as possible," she said.
That's still no guarantee your loved ones will be safe, but it's a start.
SOURCE: The Hampton Roads
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