Examples of elder abuse in the headlines range from baffling to horrifying: from the lonely old widower conned out of his life savings by a pretty young woman to the invalid grandmother found restrained to her bed, covered in bedsores and filth.
Sadly, with the population growing grayer, elder abuse is on an upward curve. So it’s encouraging that many prosecutors — including Pierce County’s Mark Lindquist — are devoting more resources to the problem. His office got an additional $200,000 in the county’s 2014 budget to expand the Elder Fraud and Abuse team to include two deputy prosecutors and a legal assistant.
It’s estimated that almost 10 percent of the elderly have been mistreated in some way, from neglect and physical abuse to financial exploitation. About 4 to 6 percent endure ongoing abuse, even in developed nations, according to the World Health Organization. The number of Americans over 65 is expected to double by 2030 — creating an even larger pool of vulnerable elderly.
Prosecuting elder abuse has special challenges. As in child abuse and domestic violence cases, the victimizer is typically a family member, which can complicate prosecution if the victim is hesitant to testify. And many victims have some form of dementia, making them easy targets and often unreliable witnesses.
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Too often, how Grandma is being treated is considered a private “family matter,” but that’s slowly changing as more people become aware of the signs of elder abuse. (See box for more information and how to report suspected abuse.)
Victims of financial exploitation — especially older men preyed upon by young women or any elderly person who falls for a scam of some kind — might be too embarrassed to come forward. That kind of crime can impose costs on the public when elders bilked of their savings become destitute.
As the population ages, dealing with the challenging issues surrounding abuse and exploitation of the vulnerable elderly must be given more emphasis. Pierce County’s heightened focus is appropriate and welcome.
Call Pierce County’s Adult Protective Services at 1-877-734-6277 (TTY: 1-800-672-7091). The statewide elder abuse hotline is 1-866-363-4276. To learn more, go to the National Center on Elder Abuse website: www.ncea.aoa.gov.