KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Abuse of the elderly had remained a private matter hidden from public view until the last 20 years or so.
There are now laws in Tennessee that protect older citizens from neglect, as well as physical, sexual and psychological abuse. There are also programs in place in Tennessee to protect the elderly; however, the problem of elder abuse will likely not go away until people understand the extent of the problem, the risk factors involved and what can be done to prevent abuse.
“I almost died, they never would come and check on me… I was living in the woods,” Hazel, an abuse victim said.
Several years ago, Hazel told us the story of how she was abused. Disabled from a series of strokes she entered rehab, but her relatives didn’t pay rent on her apartment as they’d promised and she lost the place. At that point, family members moved her into a shed at their place.
“It didn’t have electricity, it didn’t have no water, it didn’t have bathrooms,” Hazel said.
Statistically those who abuse an older person and exploit them financially are often related.
“We do see a lot of financial exploitation, they call it ‘benefits trafficking,’ where they take care of that family member for that income,” Tracy Armstrong, Area Agency on Aging, CREVAA director said.
“Elder abuse is the worst form of abuse short of child abuse. It is demeaning, it is demoralizing, it is often painful emotionally and physically,” Aaron Bradley, East TN Area Agency on Aging Director, said. “And what we are seeing more of now than ever is, it is painful financially a lot of people are losing their life’s savings.”
That’s what happened to Maxine, Ronna Forman is her case manager. For a while, Maxine’s life was like this puzzle, in disarray. Alone for the first time after her husband died, Maxine allowed a caregiver, a person she didn’t know well, to move in with her.
“I wanted her to help me with my meals, help keep the apartment clean,” Maxine said. But soon, she found her bank account cleaned out after giving the caregiver access to her debit account.
“People really need to be aware that abuse, neglect and financial exploitation is everywhere,” Tracy Armstrong said.
The risk factors for elder abuse include strained family relationships from stress as the older person becomes more dependent. A caregiver’s dependence on an older person for financial support may be a source of conflict.
Social isolation is a significant risk factor for an older person to suffer mistreatment. Tennessee is also a mandatory reporting state if you observe or believe there is abuse.
“So, report it if you see it or know about it. If you are being victimized, please report it. There are resources in the community to help you,” Aaron Bradley said.
The Tennessee Vulnerable Adult Coalition wants you to know that elder abuse is real and preventable. Elder abuse is defined as intentional harm or neglect that adversely affects a vulnerable adult. An estimated 16% of adults age 60 or older are affected and investigative agencies report the various forms of abuse are underreported.
The abuser is often a trusted person, a caregiver, relative, or friend who is responsible for abuse in the older adult’s life. Remember, if you see it, report it.