Our View: Elder abuse is often a silent crime

Published 4:32 pm Sunday, June 18, 2017

While we are often made painfully aware of the heinous crime that is child abuse and even domestic violence, there is another form of abuse that occurs frequently and often silently: elder abuse. 

Friday was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, a day when agencies release information about how to protect our elderly neighbors, friends and loved ones. According to Kentucky’s Adult Protective Services Branch, “Most of us never see it because most victims are abused behind closed doors by their own family members. And, too often, people who do see it choose not to get involved because it’s ‘none of my business.’”

APS is the state agency responsible for investigating and providing protective services to individuals that are reported to be the alleged victim of abuse, neglect or exploitation. Along with APS, there are 24 Local Coordinating Councils on Elder Abuse covering 93 counties and providing education to their communities to protect the elder population from abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.

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APS issued a reminder Friday to the public about how to guard against elder abuse.

There is no uniform reporting system; therefore cases of abuse, neglect and exploitation often go undetected each year. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, The New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study found that for every case known to programs and agencies, 24 were unknown.  

According to a National Center on Elder Abuse survey, elder abuse occurs primarily in domestic situations, with perpetrators most likely being: adult children of the victim (32.6 percent), spouses (11.3 percent) and other relatives (21.5 percent).

Crimes committed by family members and caretakers occur far more frequently than crimes perpetrated by strangers yet are the least reported and prosecuted. Only one in 14 cases of abuse and neglect are estimated to ever get reported to Adult Protective Services or the police. One in 25 cases of financial exploitation are reported.

The most common types of abuse are: self-neglect (26.7 percent), caregiver neglect (23.7 percent), emotional/psychological (13.6 percent), physical (12.5 percent), sexual abuse (.7 percent) and financial/material exploitation (20.8 percent).

The increase in age also increases the likelihood of abuse, neglect and exploitation — 20.8 percent of victims were between the ages of 60-69, 36.5 percent of victims were between the ages of 70-79 and 42.8 percent of victims were over the age of 80. The percentages include elders who live alone or with relatives, as well as those within long-term care facilities.

Some signs of abuse include obvious malnutrition, dehydration; dirty and uncombed hair or offensive body odor; hoarding behaviors; bedsores; frequent injuries such as bruises, burns or broken bones, and the explanation of the injury seems unrealistic; being fearful of a particular person; sudden dramatic changes in behavior, appearing withdrawn, depressed, hesitant to talk openly; multiple bruises in various stages of healing, particularly bruises on inner arms or thighs; experiences pain when touched; caregiver won’t let victim speak for herself or himself; caregiver scolds, insults, threatens victim; unusual activity in bank account; sudden large withdrawals, expenditures that are not consistent with past financial history; or a recent will, when the person seems incapable of writing a will.

Kentucky received more than 30,000 calls to report abuse, neglect and exploitation of people age 60 and older for state fiscal year 2016. Of those calls, more than 12,000 met screening criteria to be investigated by adult protective services.

If you suspect elder abuse, you are legally required to report it. 

You can report abuse at the 24-hour toll-free hotlines at 1-877-597-2331 or 1-800-752-6200. Calls can be made anonymously.

Protecting our older generations is vital, and APS said it best: “Remember, each time an older person is neglected, abused or killed, society loses the sum of a life that included the courage gained from overcoming personal hardships and handicaps; the strength earned by surviving sorrows and overcoming fears; and the wisdom achieved through experience and compassion.”