Local professionals held a panel discussion for Elder Abuse Awareness Month on Thursday.
Representatives from the Huron County Department of Job & Family Services (JFS), Legal Aid of Western Ohio, state attorney general’s office, Catholic Charities and Enrichment Centers for Huron County gathered in the Learning Center at Norwalk High School to share warning signs of the different types of abuse, how to report cases and how to arm seniors against abusers.
The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) classifies seven different types of abuse: Physical, emotional, sexual, abandonment, self-neglect, exploitation and neglect by external sources.
“Six in 10 seniors are being abused and only one in 14 cases are reported,” said Carol Wheeler, adult advocacy services coordinator for Catholic Charities.
When asked why elders aren’t reporting abuse, Suzie Sidell, a JFS social services worker, said “what’s really difficult about these instances being unreported, is that it’s often out of fear.”
“They’re (seniors) worried that once reported, they’ll be forced into nursing homes,” she added.
Sylvia Pla-Raith, director of the elder justice unit in the AG’s office, stressed how investigative teams could help bridge the divide between the statistics.
“We . . . professionals (and) anyone who works directly with seniors, need to collectively meet this problem,” she said.
“We’re not trying to scare seniors into giving up their independence,” said Wheeler, “we’re trying to help them maintain their independence by arming them with the resources they need to protect themselves against abusers.”
“Another big part of it is recognizing how the problem happens,” Pla-Raith said.
“It’s often the isolation,” she continued. “Isolation and self-neglect are among the top warning signs and top factors that attract scammers to elders that live alone.”
Described as “romantic” or “grandparent” scams by the panelists, perpetrators will establish themselves in an elderly person’s life. Some can be done completely online and over time, the scammers gain their trust and access to finances from checks for daily expenses to additional home loans, mortgages, etc.
“We’re there to be advocates for our clients,” said Nikita McCann, JFS social services supervisor.
Wheeler interjected, saying it’s important to “align the resources” the elderly need to maintain their independence and quality of life.
“We don’t want to scare everyone; we just want to educate them to spot the warning signs, report abuse and protect against future abuse,” Pla-Raith said.
The professionals are planning a symposium on elder abuse awareness that will feature speakers who have suffered elder abuse in the past.
Included is contact information for entities who work with elders:
“They’re worried that once reported, they’ll be forced into nursing homes.”
— Suzie Sidell
JFS social services worker