As senior population grows, so, too, must commitment to elder-abuse preventionPublished: 6/19/17 @ 12:00
The graying of America has ushered in with it an era of profound demographic change. As baby boomers advance in age and birth rates continue to decline, senior citizens represent a growing and more powerful proportion of the population.
In Ohio, the number of adults above age 60, which stands at about 2.2 million, is expected to soar to 3.3 million by 2030, according to the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University. In Mahoning County, that same study projects 34 percent of the population will be seniors by 2030, up from only 27 percent today.
As seniors’ ranks continue to grow, so, too, must quality-of-life concerns that directly affect them, not the least of which is elder abuse and combating it in any of its many despicable forms.
Documented cases of abuse, neglect and exploitation of our state’s vulnerable seniors continue to escalate, and today stand at close to 16,000 yearly.
What’s even more troubling, however, is that elder abuse remains a grossly underreported crime. Only 1 in 23 of elder- abuse cases overall and only 1 in 44 cases of financial exploitation are reported to authorities, the National Center for Elder Abuse reports.
Given those grim findings, June’s international observance of Elder Abuse Awareness Month should take on added significance that translates into constructive action.
The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.”
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services says it deals with myriad types of abuse reports from victims, their families and loved ones. They include neglect by others, self-neglect, financial exploitation and sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
Because so many victims are too proud to reveal that they unwittingly let others take advantage of them, it is up to all of us to recognize the most common signs of abuse, neglect or exploitation.
DEWINE’S ELDER-ABUSE ALERT
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose been on the front lines of fighting elder abuse since creating the state’s Elder Justice Initiative in 2014, issued an alert last week warning Ohioans to be on the lookout for signs of abuse.
Those include scratches, cuts, bruises and other visible evidence of physical harm; sudden and inexplicable behavioral or mood changes; caregivers who refuse to allow visitors to see the adult alone; hazardous or unsanitary living conditions and unexplained, sudden transfers of assets or finances to another person.
Despite many positive trends such as increased state and federal funding for elder-abuse prevention, the mistreatment of seniors remains low on the list of public- policy priorities, a report issued this year by the FrameWorks Institute asserts.
“There’s a widespread fatalistic notion in our country that ‘nothing can really be done’ to prevent elder abuse, but that couldn’t be more wrong,” said Terry Fulmer, president of the John A. Hartford Foundation, which helped fund the report. Fortunately for Ohioans, some state legislators are taking Fulmer’s point to heart.
Three months ago, State Rep. Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton, introduced House Bill 78, popularly known as the Elder Justice Act. It includes reforms to laws governing procedures of the JFS and Adult Protective Services in all 88 counties to better protect seniors from mistreatment.
For example, the bill adds financial harm to the list of violations against an elderly person that trigger reporting to the county JFS for investigation and prosecution. Its provisions also require the state to create and manage a registry to identify patterns of elder abuse and creates a commission to regularly study and issue recommendations on strategies to help local communities combat such abuse.
A similar bill that won House passage died in the Senate last year despite its strong endorsement by DeWine. The new bill’s adoption should be a priority for state lawmakers’ fall legislative session. Inaction would represent a slap in the face to Ohio’s seniors.
During this Elder Abuse Awareness Month, clearly we must muster up more than mere awareness. Today and every day, we must commit to act to lessen the scope of these pernicious crimes that rob our state’s proud older residents of their hard-earned dollars and well-deserved dignity.