by Carol Higgins Taylor
Eastern Area Agency on Aging
June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. But each day that a senior is abused is one day too many. And for seniors being abused, the fears of reporting it and actually talking about it are vast and varied.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice estimated that one in nine people 60 and older would be victims of abuse, neglect and exploitation every year. In Maine, that translates to more than 33,000 people annually who may be victims. It’s also estimated only one out of every five or six cases of abuse are reported.
“Ninety percent of abuse is perpetrated by a family member or caregiver, and the victim doesn’t want that person, their abuser, to go to jail,” said Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging (M4A). “Or some seniors have no one else to care for them and are fearful that if the family member leaves, they will have to go to a nursing home. And many are embarrassed that their loved ones could do such a thing.”
Elder abuse includes physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse and neglect. Sometimes elder abuse is simply domestic violence grown old. Often, though, it’s family members and caregivers who are exploiting and abusing older people for their own gain.
In the case of caregiver neglect, getting the caregiver support, training and access to services can make a difference. Sometimes, caregivers fear that they’ll get in trouble or will lose their loved one if they admit they’re having trouble and that prevents them from reaching out for help, added Maurer.
Eastern Area Agency on Aging has a family caregiver program and can help caregivers tremendously so if you see a caregiver struggling with caregiver duties, give us a call.
“Fifteen percent of all cases investigated include some form of financial exploitation,” said Maurer. “Many older folks have assets, are isolated and vulnerable, particularly if they are struggling with decreased cognition. They have good hearts, they want to help their neighbors and their friends, but they need help themselves so this combination makes them prime targets for abuse and financial exploitation. That’s why M4A proposed a bill that is pending before the Maine Legislature that will increase prosecution of crimes involving financial exploitation.”
The National Center on Elder Abuse offers the following as warning signs of elder abuse:
• Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions and burns may indicate physical abuse neglect or mistreatment.
• Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
• Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
• Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
• Behavior, such as belittling, threats and other uses of power and control by spouses or caregivers are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
It’s M4A’s goal to continue educating the public and increasing public awareness of the problem, said Maurer. This is a topic that needs to be discussed in families. By heightening awareness and providing information, they hope to bring elder abuse and elder domestic violence out of the shadows where it has resided for far too long.
“Abuse has a devastating impact on lives,” she said. “Seniors who have been mistreated are three times more likely to die within ten years than those who have not been abused. We want to have open and honest communications with all Maine communities.”
If you suspect that a senior you know is being abused, call Adult Protective Services at 800-624-8404 or Legal Services for the Elderly at 800-750-5353. All calls are confidential.
Don’t wait to make that call. You could be a senior’s only chance of safety.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, or go to EAAA.org.