“As with child abuse and domestic violence many years ago, elder abuse is a problem that has been in the shadows for too long,” said Rick Mooers, Adult Protective Program administrator for the Office of Elder Services and member of the Greater Bangor Coalition to End Elder Abuse. “Less than 10 percent of seniors fall victim to elder abuse, but that number is still huge. There are roughly 14,000 cases in Maine annually, 80 percent of which go unreported.”
For seniors being abused, the fears of reporting are vast and varied.
“Seventy percent of abuse is perpetrated by a family member and the victim doesn’t want that person to go to jail,” said Mooers. “Or some seniors have no one else to care for them and are fearful that if the family member leaves, they will have to go to a nursing home – a fate worse than death to them. And many are embarrassed that their loved ones could do such a thing.”
The Greater Bangor Coalition to End Elder Abuse was born three years ago by way of a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Elder Justice Project. The area is fortunate to participate as there are only four coalitions in the state.
“The goal of the coalition is to establish a grass roots community-based organization that could heighten awareness and provide education which ultimately would bring elder abuse and elder domestic violence out of the darkness,” said Mooers. “It is important to note that domestic violence doesn’t end at age 60. It just changes its face and becomes elder abuse, which adds some interesting facets to the issue itself.”
Elder abuse can arise out of many circumstances. For instance, a spouse who becomes a caregiver may begin abusing out of frustration and fear. Or the spouse may become neglectful out of ignorance, for example not turning a bedridden partner to prevent pressure sores. There may be no malicious intent, but it is abusive nonetheless.
“Forty percent of all cases investigated include some form of financial exploitation,” said Mooers. “Seniors can also be exploited sexually and emotionally. As a society we have devalued our seniors. We live in a high-tech, high-paced world and our seniors have been set aside. This mentality makes them a prime target for abuse, and financial exploitation is the crime of the 21st century.”
The National Center on Elder Abuse offers several warning signs of elder abuse.
. Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may indicate physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment.
. Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
. Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
. Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
. Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
“We can help prevent elder abuse through education and open and honest communication with our communities and our seniors,” said Mooers.
To obtain information on elder abuse or to join the Greater Bangor Coalition to End Elder Abuse, call Val Sauda, at Eastern Agency on Aging. And mark your calendar for Nov. 3, for the coalition’s annual meeting. This all-day event will be held at Jeff’s Catering in Brewer and costs $35. Lunch is included. Send a check to GBCEEA, c/o EAA, 450 Essex St, Bangor 04401.
If you have reason to suspect that elder abuse is happening to someone you know, call (800) 624-8404. All calls are confidential.
“Elder abuse and domestic violence are not acceptable and will not be tolerated,” said Mooers.
Carol Higgins is director of communications at Eastern Agency on Aging. For information on EAA, call 941-2865, log on www.eaaa.org or e-mail email@example.com. TTY 992-0150.