January 28, 2013

Elder abuse: 'Huge' and growing problem

As America's baby boomers age, far more seniors are being added to a vulnerable population. The number of victims is estimated at 2 million a year.

DAN SEWELL / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Kim Bauer
click image to enlarge

Caregiver Kim Bauer navigates an elderly woman’s wheelchair at the Cedar Village retirement community in Mason, Ohio. The woman, who is in her 70s, was allegedly abused by a relative. Cases of elder abuse typically go undetected, experts say, because the abuse – often by family members – is not reported due to embarrassment or fear.

The Associated Press

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An elderly woman watches "I Love Lucy" on a television inside her room at Cedar Village retirement community in Mason, Ohio. The Shalom Center, which is a part of the community, offers shelter, along with medical, psychological and legal help, to elderly abuse victims in this northern Cincinnati suburb. The center asked that this woman's identity be protected for this story because the close relatives who allegedly abused her don't know where she is.

The Associated Press


As many as 2 million older Americans are abused in various ways each year, experts estimate. The majority of cases are at the hands of relatives or other caregivers. Some of the forms, besides physical assault, that elder abuse can take:

Inappropriate use of drugs and physical restraints.

Treating the elderly person as if he or she were a small child.

Failure to provide sufficient food, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene, medication, comfort or safety.

Isolating the person from friends, family, other social activities.

Deserting the person.

Misusing the person’s funds, property and assets.

Source: New York City Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence

There are no longer enough adult protective services investigators to routinely check on older adults unless there is a specific report of abuse or neglect.

"We do the best we can down here," Gregg said, noting that the agency has a hotline to take anonymous reports and that it is seeing more financial scams targeting elderly people.

The price for not getting ahead of the problem and preventing abuse of people who would otherwise be healthy and financially stable will be high, warned Joy Solomon, a former Manhattan assistant prosecutor who helped pioneer elder abuse shelters with the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention, which opened in 2005 at the Hebrew Home community in New York City.

"My argument always is, if all you do is come in when the crisis has occurred, it is much more costly than preventative care," said Solomon, director of the shelter, which takes in about 15 people a year.

She and others in the field say the first steps are to raise public awareness and train police, lawyers, criminal justice officials and others to recognize and respond to signs of abuse.

Prosecutors often have been reluctant to purse elder abuse cases, which can be complex because of medical and financial complications, the witness' ability to testify or reluctance to testify against relatives, according to research for the National Institute of Justice.

In suburban Los Angeles, Orange County started an Elder Abuse Forensic Center nearly 10 years ago; it helps police, geriatrics specialists, lawyers and social services workers coordinate efforts to identify, investigate and prosecute abuse cases.

New York City started its Elder Abuse Center to 2009 to bring a multi-organization approach to the problem, saying that nearly 100,000 older people are abused in their homes in the city alone. While he was Ohio's attorney general, Richard Cordray, now director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, initiated in 2009 the state Elder Abuse Commission, something current Attorney General Mike DeWine has continued.

In the case of the woman who complained of having been abused in a relative's home, a call to adult protective services by someone familiar with her led to an investigation and her referral to the shelter.

She has little money, health problems and few alternatives, and after a while, she asked if she could stay at Cedar Village permanently. Caseworkers and officials at the nonprofit, faith-based home agreed that was the best place for her.

The center asked that her identity be protected for this story because the close relatives who allegedly abused her don't know where she is.

She paints, plays in a residents' bell choir, plays bingo with others regularly, and has her own room and TV to watch favorites such as "Ellen" and reruns of the "I Love Lucy" television show.

"I've got quite a few friends," she said. "They're just nice people here. I have somebody to talk to, and I appreciate it."


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