DAVIS COUNTY – As the saying goes, “getting old isn’t for sissies.” But of all the problems that come with old age, abuse should not be one of them.
“Usually when it comes to abuse it doesn’t come at the hands of strangers,” said John Cowan, senior long-term care ombudsman for the Davis County Health Department Division of Family Health & Senior Services. “It comes at the hands of family members or caregivers.”
June 15 was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Its purpose is to bring to light an ever-growing problem among the elderly.
“We are in the process of pulling together a group over the next four years to look into abuse,” said Kristy Cottrell, Davis County Health Department Division Director of Family Health & Senior Services. “We’ll have various stake holders such as police, attorneys and financial institutions to become aware of exploitation and who they can go to for help.”
Abuse can come in many different forms. “In my role as long-term care ombudsman I mostly deal with seniors residing in those facilities and interact with Adult Protective Services,” said Cowan. “We see a little bit of everything including a fair amount of caretaker neglect in nursing homes and in the home by family members or paid caregivers.”
Cowan breaks down abuse into these categories, neglect, exploitation, sexual/physical, unlawful restraint and financial.
“Someone with power of attorney can overstep their bounds and harm a vulnerable adult,” he said. “Signs of physical abuse can be unexplained injuries, fractures or wounds – just any kind of changes. They may be fearful, have low self-esteem or withdraw.”
A Bountiful woman, who asked to remain anonymous, knows all too well what it means to be financially exploited. After allowing a long-time neighbor’s daughter to help her with household chores, she discovered the young woman was writing out checks against a home equity loan she had never used. She managed to bilk her out of $180,000 before she was caught, a sum the now 79-year-old who is battling cancer couldn’t afford to lose.
“One mistake I made was leaving her money to go to the store,” she said. “At one point I noticed my check book was missing. I called the police and we’ve gone to court off and on but she just whines and complains that she doesn’t have the money.”
Cottrell said 43 percent of perpetrators are relatives or family members, 23 percent are caregivers or a person the senior knows.
“You should be watching for sudden withdrawals of funds or if the senior can’t afford items,” said Cowan. “They might even change the name on a deed. But many seniors have a deep rooted fear of reporting abuse because they might lose the care giving family member.”
Cottrell believes that any community member should report possible abuse. “If you are aware or suspicious you have an obligation to report it to Adult Protective Services or the police,” she said.
“Make sure you are visiting your elderly love one and neighbors,” said Cowan. “See what day-to-day life is like for them. People with good intentions can suffer burnout and cross the line from caregiver to perpetrator.”
For more information about elder abuse and helpful resources go to ncea.aoa.gov or call Davis County Aging Services at 801-525-5050.
“Be very observant of any changes,” said Cowan. “Always report even when in doubt.”