POMEROY — As the population of those older than 60 increases, so do instances of elder abuse.
To raise awareness, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services designated June as Elder Abuse Awareness Month.
According to the Administration for Community Living, hundreds of thousands of older persons are abused, neglected, and exploited every year. Elder abuse, including neglect and exploitation, is experienced by 1 out of every 10 people age 60 and older who live at home. This statistic is likely an underestimate because many victims are unable or afraid to disclose or report the violence.
It is estimated elders throughout the United States lose $2.6 billion or more annually due to elder financial abuse and exploitation. These funds could have been used to pay for basic needs such as housing, food and medical care, and the loss of such revenue also has an impact on social service systems and Medicare.
No one is immune to abuse, neglect and exploitation; it occurs in every demographic and it is estimated that only about 1 in 5 of those crimes are ever discovered.
The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations joined the efforts by making June 15 World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
The purpose of WEAAD is “to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.”
WEAAD supports of the United Nations International Plan of Action that acknowledges elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue.
Beth Shaffer, director of the Meigs County Council on Aging in Pomeroy, sees first-hand the effects of elder abuse on the county’s residents and said, “Elder abuse is becoming far too frequent for those over the age of 60. This is in part due to the growing number of people in that age group and the growing number of people who are willing to abuse or exploit them.”
It is estimated that 5 million older adults are abused, neglected and/or exploited in the United States each year. For each of those reported cases it is estimated that there are another 23 that go unreported.
The Meigs Council on Aging observed Worldwide Elder Abuse Awareness Day, with the staff and several of the participants wearing purple in commemoration. Meigs County Prosecuting Attorney Colleen Williams gave a presentation to the group and spoke about the types of cases that have been reported to her office.
Williams said many involved scams that come through telephone calls, with the callers claiming that they are a grandchild needing money or someone trying to sell something. Her advice was to check with the parents of the child before wiring money or telling the salesperson that you aren’t interested in whatever they are selling. If the caller becomes persistent, she suggested hanging up the phone.
Williams also talked about the growing problem of workers who go into homes to help older people with personal care or housekeeping and then take advantage of the person.
“This is usually accomplished by the worker building a personal rapport with the senior and in doing so builds the trust that is necessary to then obtain money or items that the senior owns,” she said, emphasizing that not all home health aides are trying to scam people, but that the senior and their family need to be diligent.
Another area of concern is with those who promise to do home repairs. They may ask for money up front and then never return to do the work.
“Seniors are more vulnerable to these types of scams because they can’t always do the work themselves and have to rely on others,” Williams noted, adding that it is important to check references on anyone who will be working for you. She also advised to only do business with those who come with good recommendations.
Another scam is known as the “Sweetheart Scam.” Williams explained that many older adults are lonely, making them likely targets for those who are less than honest. These scammers exploit the loneliness of their victim, often seeking them out by posing as a potential “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.”
“These people are on the lookout for their next victim all the time,” Williams said.
She closed by saying that older people are often embarrassed to admit they have been taken advantage of and are less likely to report it to authorities, and that sometimes the abuser or scammer is actually a family member, which also makes the victim reluctant to report.
“It is important to report, even if you aren’t sure a crime has been committed,” Williams said, “The authorities can determine that.”
Shaffer said the Council on Aging is planning an evening panel discussion with several presenters during Senior Center Month in September.
“We must be more diligent in any of our dealings, whether it is for ourselves or for our loved ones,” Shaffer said. “This is an important topic and it takes everyone working together to make sure we keep our seniors safe and sound.”
Reach Lorna Hart at 740-992-2155 Ext. 2551