Don’t ignore elder abuse

Published 10:12 am Tuesday, June 21, 2016

June 15 marked the 10th annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. According to the Administration on Aging “each year, hundreds of thousands of older persons are abused, neglected, and exploited. In addition, elders throughout the United States lose an estimated $2.6 billion or more annually due to elder financial abuse and exploitation, funds that could have been used to pay for basic needs such as housing, food, and medical care.”

Elder abuse is a vastly under-reported crime and is happening in our community. Often, victims aren’t aware what has happened to them is a criminal matter, or they are afraid of the perpetrator and don’t want further problems. Frequently, elderly victims do not want anybody to know they are being victimized because they fear that it will result in their being placed in a nursing home or having a guardian assigned.

When physical abuse or financial exploitation is brought to law enforcement’s attention the results are sometimes disappointing. Abuse is sometimes dismissed as being caused by caregiver stress, and the victim is blamed for being a demanding patient. Financial exploitation is often seen as mismanagement or unethical use of assets as opposed to criminal conduct. Some professionals have the perception that elderly victims would not be credible witnesses, or would not stand up to rigorous cross-examination, so criminal charges are never filed. Further, while victims would like to be safe from further abuse or to recover lost assets they are often reluctant to have the perpetrator — many times a family member — held criminally accountable.

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Elderly victims of crime tend to suffer more physical and financial injuries than other age groups. It takes longer for them to recover from physical injuries and they may never fully recover from financial abuse. That is why prevention of elder abuse is so important. Community members can watch for warning signs in their neighborhoods, churches or other places they spend time. The National Center On Elder Abuse suggests we “be on the lookout for an older friend or acquaintance who seems to be in a troubling situation but is reluctant to answer questions about it. …Changes in personality — such as a lack of interest in activities that he or she used to enjoy, or unusual nervousness — may be signs of a problem such as abuse.”

If someone confides in you about what is going on in their life believe them, don’t dismiss or minimize what they are saying and let them know that there are people out there to help them. For more information, or if you have concerns about an elderly person that you care about, please call Crime Victims Resource Center, 507-437-6680, to discuss options for them to get assistance with their situation.