Forgotten: Elder Abuse is deep in the shadows

Friday, June 14, 2013

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day logo

Somewhere right now an old woman with dementia is sitting silently, head bowed, while her daughter yells and threatens to punch her.

Somewhere an elderly man is being evicted because he has given all his money to his son and can't pay his rent.

And somewhere an elderly widow with depression sits alone in a dirty house, unfed, unwashed and unwilling to let anyone help her.

Elder abuse is all around us, but we`re rarely aware of it. It usually goes unreported. The victims don`t rally in the streets. Often, they`re afraid to let anyone know. It doesn`t get the attention or funding of child abuse or other forms of domestic violence.

But abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of the elderly cause immense suffering and they cost society in terms of lost lives, stolen financial assets, medical expenses, and premature placements in institutions.

Every year an estimated 5 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation. And that’s only part of the picture: Experts believe that for every case of elder abuse or neglect reported, as many as 23 cases go unreported. Financial exploitation in particular is on the rise.  Nationally, it is estimated that older adults lose $2.6 billion annually that is essentially stolen from them by relatives, people working for them, "friends" or scam artists.

Prevention of elder abuse begins with increased awareness and advocacy for more justice and protection for victims.

June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, a day in which communities and municipalities around the world plan activities and programs to share information and spread awareness about abuse, neglect, and exploitation in later life. Greater awareness is important because it raises more voices to help those who have no voice.

There are also other ways to make a difference. Here are a few:

At the federal level: Contact your legislators about funding for the Elder Justice Act. This bipartisan legislation passed in 2010 as part of health care reform but has yet to be fully funded. Funding would support protective services, awareness efforts, professional training, and research.

At the state levelContact your legislators to support full funding of Adult Protective Services across Ohio. Nearly half of Ohio`s counties do not have money for full time adult protection workers. These are social workers who investigate reports of abuse and arrange for protection, such as home care services, legal assistance, or guardianship. In counties that do have full time workers, there is sometimes only one for the entire county. 

In your community: report suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation to Adult Protective Services for the county where you live.

In your neighborhood: Reach out to older adults who may be lonely or struggling to stay independent in their homes. Simple acts of kindness like walking the dog, helping with yard work, or just stopping by to visit can make a real difference. Sometimes there is no family caregiver to help and, if there is, that caregiver may be grateful for a helping hand.

To report suspected elder abuse (including an older person`s self-neglect), call your county adult protective services office:

Butler County - 513-887-4081

Clermont County - 513-732-7173

Clinton County - 937-382-5935 or 937-382-2449

Hamilton County 421-LIFE (5433)

Warren County - 513-695-1423