It is a great tragedy to toil and sweat for years, lead a productive and happy life, then be metaphorically stuffed into a sleeping bag until you die. The tears may not be visible, but the clues to elder abuse are pouring.
The extent of elder abuse is unknown, but one statistician puts the unreported cases at one out of every six older adults. It becomes evident that the majority of victims are not getting critically needed help.
Elder abuse is much more than physical assaults. Some older citizens are emotionally abused, deprived of nourishment or separated from their life savings. Even mild abuse, neglect or financial exploitation can increase an older person’s risk of death by 30 percent after just three years.
Elder abuse normally occurs in private, and more often perpetrated by a family member. The elderly victim often does not report the abuse because of family connections and sometimes because the fear of being placed in a nursing home.
Stealing from an elderly family member is like taking candy from a baby but just as illegal as robbing a bank.
Passive neglect can happen when the caregiver either does not recognize the needs of the older person, or has no idea how to provide for those needs. Sexual abuse is not easily detectable, and other signs of elder abuse are not always obvious. It doesn’t have to be bruises, broken bones, burns or abrasions that send up red flags.
Personality or behavioral changes, withdrawal from normal activity, bedsores, poor hygiene, sudden weight loss and unexpected financial changes should trigger close scrutiny.
Older adults account for 12 percent of the U.S. population, but 18 percent of suicides are attributed to the same group. Is there a correlation between elder abuse and suicide? Our elderly population by 2050 will outnumber children, so it only makes sense that the rate of elder abuse will continue to grow. It also makes sense for society to take action today.
Elder abuse can largely be prevented, and the responsibility doesn’t rest with our government. Only two cents or less out of every dollar spent by our federal government on family violence goes toward elder abuse.
The Cobb Elder Abuse Task Force was established to address this growing phenomenon. It is a partnership comprised of public safety officials, elected officials, regulatory agencies, bankers and senior citizen advocates. Part of their mission is to educate the public about elder abuse and to generally enhance laws that protect the welfare of the elderly.
Every citizen should watch for the warning signs of elder abuse and not assume someone else has already contacted authorities.
A simple telephone call might be the only hope an older adult has for basic human dignity and survival. Anonymous tips can be made by calling the CEATF Anonymous Tip Line @ (770) 794-6990.
“Age is a number, and mine is unlisted,” but every incident of active elder abuse should be published and prosecuted, and the perpetrator should be publicly punished and put behind bars.
Charlie Sewell is the Powder Springs chief of police. His column runs monthly in the Marietta Daily Journal.