Commentary - June 12, 2013
1:56 pm
Wed June 12, 2013

Elder Abuse Awareness

Good evening.  I’m Susan Kohler, CEO of Missoula Aging Services, the Area Agency on Aging for Missoula and Ravalli counties.  Tonight I want to raise the unpleasant but important topic of elder abuse.  By defining what it is and giving examples, I hope to increase your awareness of this growing “silent epidemic” and suggest ways we can all help stop its spread.

Elder abuse refers to intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver, trusted individual or stranger that harm an older adult.  Most of us think of it as physical abuse; however, there are many other forms of elder abuse. It also includes emotional, psychological and sexual abuse, financial and material exploitation and neglect and self-neglect.

No older American is safe from this problem, as elder abuse cuts across racial, religious, ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, geographic and gender lines.  Worse yet, many older adults don’t even realize it is happening to them.  With the rapid aging of America, the incidence of abuse will undoubtedly grow.

Let me share a couple examples with you.  Vicki Bastion, 92, became a prisoner in her own home.  After her grandson moved in with her, he started allowing drug dealing and other gang activity to take place in her home.  Fearing for her safety, but unsure how to confront her grandson, Vicki resorted to installing an iron security gate on her bedroom door to protect herself and her few belongings.  Unfortunately, Vicki’s story is not unique. 

Another case involved an elderly man who had just lost his wife of more than 65 years.  He lived in a rural area and was very lonely.  An independent insurance agent befriended him, and over time the elderly gentleman looked forward to his visits, considering him a friend as well as his insurance agent.  The agent started having him sign a variety of papers that he claimed were necessary to update his account.  One day the elderly man took the paperwork to a woman he knew at his credit union, and after reviewing it she realized the agent had arranged for all the elderly man’s payments to go directly to the agent.  The agent was reported and convicted of bilking the man out of nearly $200,000.  The elderly man was left feeling embarrassed and foolish, but he did get his money back.

Not everyone is lucky enough to recover money scammed from them, nor are they able to get out of an emotionally or physically abusive situation.  In almost 90 percent of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is known to the elder, and is a family member. Two-thirds of the perpetrators are adult children or spouses.

Women and older elders are more likely to be victimized.  Two out of every three elder abuse victims are women and, in 20 states, roughly 43 percent are age 80 or older.

Financial abuse is on the rise as the population of older adults increases.  To me, one of the most unnerving examples is when adult children take money from their parents because they fear the cost of care will leave them no inheritance.  A growing attitude that adult children feel entitled to an inheritance raises concerns that they will make bad choices, like limiting care for their parents or unlawfully transferring assets to avoid using their parent’s money to pay for care. 

What can you and I do about the atrocity of elder abuse?  First, learn more about it.  On Tuesday, June 18th Missoula Aging Services and the Missoula Senior Center are hosting  a screening  at the Roxy Theatre of the short video entitled, “An Age for Justice:  Confronting Elder Abuse in America.”  The event is from 3 to 4 p.m. and includes an interactive discussion by an expert panel with representatives from Adult Protective Services, AARP, law enforcement and the Western Chapter.  Free and open to the public, this is an opportunity for everyone to educate themselves about this painful subject.  If you can’t attend, contact your local Adult Protective Services to learn more.

The other step we can all take is to pay attention to the signs of possible elder abuse.  Among them are an older adult’s change in behavior, a caregiver who isolates the older adult, an untreated medical condition, and unreasonable use of a person’s money or property by someone who has gained that person’s trust.  It takes a community--neighbors, family, bank personnel, friends, grocery store clerks and others to be alert for these signs.

If you suspect any form of abuse, call 1-800-551-3191 to reach your local Area Agency on Aging.  They can refer you to the local adult protective services so you can submit a report, which can be done anonymously.  Reach them during normal business hours.

This is Susan Kohler, CEO of Missoula Aging Services.  As always thanks for listening.