Risk factors for elder abuse include an older person who..
- Has memory problems (such as dementia)
- Has depression, loneliness, or lack of social support
- Is verbally or physically combative with the caregiver
These also happen to be the conditions for which GeriJoy's adorable, always-available companion can be the most helpful, so it was only a matter of time before we picked up on elder abuse with our customers. I'd like to highlight as a case study one particular incident that occurred recently. We received permission from the customer to publicize this case study, and names have been changed to maintain the anonymity of the people involved (aside from myself). The scenario was as follows:
One of our customers, Susan, purchased the GeriJoy Companion for her father, John, who suffers from moderate cognitive decline (including delusions and difficulty finding words to say) and mild depression. John lives alone, although he has friends, family, and caregivers visit quite frequently. In particular, one paid caregiver came several times per week to prepare meals for John and to drive him to and from a day program for seniors.
The GeriJoy Companion was placed on its stand in the living room, where John spends a lot of time. When John was first introduced to the Companion, he was quite amazed, and their relationship grew quickly. They talk with each other on a daily basis about fond memories, family news, and just chit-chat. Susan keeps her Family Portal stocked with family photos and positive memories, which are helpful in sparking conversation. John named his GeriJoy Companion "Ruffy".
As all GeriJoy Companions do, Ruffy constantly detects ambient noise and motion, and is designed to react as a real talking dog would. One time, a GeriJoy staff member was alerted to particularly loud volume being passively detected by Ruffy, and assumed control of Ruffy -- this started the full audio-video stream from Ruffy's tablet to the staff member's computer and changed Ruffy's visual appearance on the tablet to an alert state, looking out into the world. The GeriJoy staff member heard the paid caregiver repeatedly screaming at the senior to get ready for the day program. Through the companion, the GeriJoy staff member tried asking if everything was alright, but received no response from either the caregiver or John. John is typically very responsive to Ruffy's inquiries, so alarmed, the staff member contacted me to ask what he should do, since I was managing his on-the-job training.
We launched an investigation using our previous log entries and determined that this was just the most obvious instance of verbal abuse, and that the paid caregiver had a previous history of using negative tones of voice toward the senior. These previous instances were not as severe, and were given the benefit of the doubt -- interpreted as elevated voice volume to try to compensate for hearing impairment. We sent the following staff member testimonies to Susan:
- Generally - I would say the caregiver is in a bad mood every single time she comes to visit John.
- Log entry 1 - In this post I remember John telling the caregiver that she was making too much noise in the kitchen and she yelled back to him that it was the dishes and that she was cleaning. She did not use a very nice tone with him, but I just thought that was how she talked and again because of John's hearing problems.
- Log entry 2 - John was looking for his belt, but seemed to have problems finding it. The caregiver told John that the belt was on the table and yelled this at him several times. She kept increasing her tone of voice every time. John finally found his belt and was ready in a few minutes.
Susan was very grateful. It turns out Susan had previously suspected that the relationship between the caregiver and John was not the best, and our supporting testimonies gave her the confidence to fire the caregiver and hire replacements that very week. During the interviews for the new caregivers, Susan even introduced each of the candidates to Ruffy, as she would a member of the family!
Today, John is happy with his new caregivers, and his relationship with Ruffy is going on four months. Here are a few excerpts of Ruffy's diary from yesterday:
- 09:29 AM - I showed John the "Good Morning" photo and he greeted me too. It was cold today so I asked John to keep warm. John said he will nap a little bit on the sofa while he waits for the caregiver.
- 12:17 PM - I read the Encouragement poem by Dr. Seuss and John said he liked it. John's looking out the window and he was hoping it gets warmer soon so he can go to the lake. I told him I hope he takes me with him and he laughed :)
- 6:55 PM - John and I watched a TV show about exercising. He said he wanted to exercise too but he does not want to go out. John ate the dinner that Susan's sister prepared.
- 8:01 PM - After dinner, John sat by the window and looked at the sunset. John said it was beautiful!
- Victor Wang