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Features Health & Wellness Spread the word about elder abuse

Susan, 82, was overjoyed when her youngest daughter, Nancy, 48, asked if she could move back home.

Since Susan’s husband died the previous year, she’s been lonely; adding to her loneliness are several health issues which leave Susan more and more isolated from the community. Susan quickly agreed to Nancy’s request to move in with her, thinking it would be a good time to bond with her daughter during her final years.

For the first few months, Susan really enjoyed having Nancy around. They shared meals together, reminiscing of days gone by. Then Nancy started “borrowing” money, promising to pay Susan back once she landed a job. Susan had a nagging feeling in her gut that what Nancy was doing was wrong, but she felt as though she needed to help her daughter.

Things escalated once Susan started asking Nancy about her job search. To Susan, it seemed Nancy had time to go out at night with friends and a new boyfriend, but no time to look for work. Or Nancy had an excuse as to why one job or another would not work out. Every time Susan asked about her job search, Nancy would yell at her mother, sometimes throwing something across the room.

One afternoon, the phone rang. It was a local retail store with a part-time job offer for Nancy. Susan went to wake Nancy to take the call, who was hung over from a night of partying. Nancy immediately went into a rage and shoved Susan to the ground, all the while yelling at her mom. In her fall, Susan hit her head on the door frame and broke her wrist.

Each year, six million seniors across America are abused, neglected and exploited.

When Susan went to the emergency room, she told doctors she stumbled and fell. She never dared mentioned Nancy’s name. Susan felt ashamed that her own child would cause her such pain.

Unfortunately, Susan is not alone. Each year, six million seniors across America are abused, neglected and exploited. In Macon County, people 65 and older make up 24.5 percent of the county’s population of 33,233. That exceeds the North Carolina average of 12.7 percent, and growth in the senior population is projected to continue growing at a rapid rate.

Like Susan, most elders are abused, neglected and exploited by those they love most – their family members, usually adult children. In 47 percent of abuse cases, the abuser is the child. Because family members are typically the abuser, most elder abuse cases are not reported to authorities. In fact, only one in 14 cases comes to the attention of authorities, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.

In cases of financial exploitation, five million seniors are impacted each year, yet only one in 25 cases is reported. Again, the perpetrator is typically a family member.

Why is elder abuse such an underreported crime? One reason is the elder is dependent upon the abuser. Other family members may live elsewhere and the senior has no one else to help. These seniors rely on their abusers to get them to doctors’ appointments, take care of food shopping or get their prescriptions. A nother reason is seniors do not want to get their loved ones in trouble. The fact is elder abuse is a crime. North Carolina has statutes that outlines elder abuse, neglect and exploitation, which also covers persons with disabilities. The statutes define an elder as persons 60 and older. These statutes make crimes against the elderly and those with disabilities felonies.

Actor Mickey Rooney brought elder abuse to the public mind when he told the world about the abuse, neglect and exploitation he faced at the hands of his step-children. Hopefully, his courage will allow others to break the silence and get help.

Help spread the word that it’s okay for elder abuse victims to report their abuse, neglect and exploitation to authorities. If you know or suspect elder abuse is taking place, do not hesitate to make a report to law enforcement or Adult Protective Services. Contact APS at (828)349-2124.

Kim Gardner is the Elder SAFE Program Coordinator for the 30th Judicial District Domestic Violence-Sexual Assault Alliance, Inc. The Alliance is an award-winning nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating domestic violence and sexual assault in the seven westernmost counties of North Carolina. She can be reached at (866)496-5406.

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