Q: I recently read an article about World Elder Abuse Awareness Day which left me a little bewildered. The media is always reporting stories about domestic violence or child abuse cases but I really didn't think this was an issue with older adults. I have never known anyone who has experienced this so my assumption is this primarily takes place in the less desirable parts of town. Could you provide more information?

A: Sadly your assumption is incorrect. Elder abuse crosses all socio-economic boundaries. In Massachusetts on the average 54 new reports are made on a daily basis. It is estimated for every official report another 25 go unreported/undetected. During the first sic months of 2002 there was a total of 297 calls related to elder abuse and self-neglect disclosed to the Protective Services Program at Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley. Ten years later during the same time frame of 2012 the number of reports dramatically rose to 856. The number of trained and skilled workers required to thoroughly investigate each situation has been increased from 9 in 2002 to current staffing of 29. These statistics should clearly point out this is indeed an unfortunate problem which exists in our communities.

Elder Abuse includes physical, emotional (psychological), sexual abuse, financial exploitation and neglect on the part of a caregiver or self-neglect by the elder. The definition of abuse is rather straightforward and understood by the average individual. Neglect refers to the failure to provide the basic necessities of life; food, hygiene, clean clothing, access to medical care and a safe living environment free of hazards. It also refers to lack of supervision for elders with dementia keeping them from harm's way and wandering. Far too many older adults are preyed upon financially by family members. This could refer to stealing, forging documents, the misuse of charge accounts, or coercion to sign over property/money.

Older adults living in an abusive situation may maintain silence and continue in the relationship out of fear of retaliation or shame. For parents, they often assume responsibility erroneously believing if they had been a better parent their child would have treated them differently. Sadly the fear of being left alone is so all consuming they choose to continue in the abusive relationship.

June 15, 2012 was designated World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The intent was not to bring attention to the plight of vulnerable older adults on that day alone but to encourage friends, neighbors, family members and professionals to remain alert to potential incidents of intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or "trusted" individual of older adults. Numerous licensed professionals such as physicians, police, social workers, and home health agencies are required as mandated reporters to call whenever a situation comes to their attention. Non-professionals who are concerned are not responsible to provide proof of actual abuse but can make reports in good faith. The Elder Abuse Hot Line in Massachusetts operates evenings and weekends and can be reached at 1-800-922-2275. During normal working hours call 1-800-892-0890 to make a report

Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries from our readers, direct comments to ro@esmv.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. 360 Merrimack St. B#5, Lawrence, MA 01843.

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