Most people have heard about child abuse, but elder abuse is discussed far less. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, marked annually on June 15, seeks to heighten awareness about neglect and mistreatment of old individuals, and what resources are available to stop it.
It's shocking to learn than about 5 million American seniors experience some sort of abuse, neglect or exploitation each year. Earlier this week, the Carroll County Bureau of Aging and Disabilities brought in an expert panel to discuss how to identify, report and prevent elder abuse in the county — valuable knowledge for a community where more than 16 percent of the population is over the age of 65.
Much of the discussion centered on abuse that seniors may suffer while in long-term care facilities, such as a nursing home. But elder abuse is not limited to such facilities. A neighbor, caregiver or even a family member can perpetrate the abuse.
Signs to look for are unexplained injuries — cuts, bruises, bleeding, burns, sprains or broken bones — especially those that may happen over and over. It should also be a red flag if the person doesn't want to see a doctor about his or her wounds.
It also is not limited to physical abuse. It is estimated that more than $2.5 billion is lost by elders in the United States due to exploitation. Large withdrawals from bank accounts that cannot be explained, missing financial statements or legal documents and unpaid bills are potential signs of financial abuse.
Psychological abuse and neglect also fall under the heading of elder abuse. Psychological or verbal abuse may manifest in your loved one becoming depressed, confused or losing interest in things they once enjoyed. Trouble sleeping and acting withdrawn or frightened are other potential signs. Sudden losses in weight or appetite, dirty clothes, unkempt hair, and skin rashes or bedsores may be signs of neglect.
Identifying something is wrong might be the easy part. Equally important is knowing where to turn for help, which is what Wednesday's panel sought to address.
The Adult Protective Services division of the Department of Social Services will conduct investigations of allegations of abuse or neglect for a vulnerable adult — defined by the state as someone who cannot mentally or physically take care of their own needs. That group can be reached at 410-386-3434.
Complaints or reports of abuse regarding long-term care facilities, assisting living and nursing homes should be directed to the Carroll County Long-Term Care Ombudsman by calling 410-386-3800. The Long-Term Care Ombudsman program can also help older adults and family members make informed decisions about long-term care.
In some situations, abuse or neglect rises to a criminal level. In those cases, the Carroll County Sheriff's (410-386-2900) and State's Attorney's (410-386-2671) offices may investigate. Financial exploitation of seniors in particular is something that should be reported to police. The state's attorney's special victim's unit also has two investigators and a prosecutor who have experience dealing with cases of senior and financial abuse.
If you suspect abuse or neglect and still aren't sure which agency to reach out to, try any of them. These groups work together so that even if one particular agency cannot help you, they can direct you to someone who can or at the very least to other support services available.
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By knowing what to look for and where to turn, we can take steps to prevent elder abuse in Carroll County.