World Elder Abuse Awareness Day notes growing social and human rights issue

Correction: Two quotes were fixed for grammar and word order. The Vermont Council on Aging's number was also corrected.

BENNINGTON — A 64-year-old from Stamford is out $4,500 after being taken advantage of in an IRS phone scam. This is a growing issue nationally and across the state.

June 15 marks a day to spread awareness about a growing issue about elder's being taken advantage of in various ways. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) originated in 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations. Vermont has about 22 percent of residents over the age of 60 and a growing population of elders; 90,000. About 4,500 of them are victims of neglect and abuse each year. One out of five of those cases never get reported, according to a release from the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging.

"There's different kinds of abuse we're seeing in Vermont, more of the financial exploitation, physical abuse, and healthcare fraud and abuse," Heather Baker, Council on Aging development and communications coordinator said. "It's people who have earned trust of the senior, so a caretaker or family member. It could be anybody."

Baker mentioned a situation about a young boy who was given his grandmother's debit card that was attached to her three squares benefits and he drained the bank account with the benefits. Other cases involved a caretaker that brings groceries to the elder or maintain their house and steal money. Sometimes the victim will not report the case because they depend on that caretaker.

The most recent cases involve telephone scams reporting a family member is in danger or jail and the senior is threatened for money. On May 25, the Stamford elder reportedly sent two payments totaling $4,500 after a person claimed to be an IRS representative on the phone, according to a police release. The scammer threatened the victim with federal warrants and a license suspension if he did not comply.

"The seniors are very vulnerable and they don't want to report people. A lot live in isolation and that's the only contact they have with people," Baker said. "I just think that elderly people in the state are targets."

Seniors typically receive a fixed income and won't have funds for medication or food if they become a victim of a scam. "It's a trickle down effect. It's sad," Baker said.

The focus of WEADD is to "promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect," according to the National Center on Elder Abuse Administration on Aging. Elder abuse is acknowledged as a public health and human rights issue.

"Elder Abuse is an important issue. Because it often happens in private settings and because perpetrators play on older adults' insecurities, it can be difficult to detect," Suzanne Anair, administrator at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center's Centers for Living and Rehabilitation said. "In this way, elders experiencing abuse need everyone who comes into contact with them to watch for signals that elders are being abused. The signs can be physical, emotional, or financial."

Family members are to blame for more than half of all reported abuse cases, according to the release from the Council on Aging. If a medical caretaker has been involved in an abuse case, Baker said it would get reported to the Adult Protective Services and then to the Division of Licensing and Protection if the abuser is affiliated with a nursing facility.

Risk factors for elders include low social support, dementia, experience of previous traumatic events, functional impairment, living with a large number of household members and lower income or poverty, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse Administration on Aging. Signals of healthcare fraud consists of duplicate billings for the same medical service, problems with a care facility or inadequate responses to questions about care. For financial exploitations, there might be significant withdrawals from the elder's account, addition of names to the senior's signature card or unpaid bills or lack of medical care. Signs of physical abuse include unexplained bruises, welts or injuries, broken eyeglasses or frames, and signs of being restrained. Emotional and sexual abuse as well as self-neglect can also occur.

Those who suspect an elder is experiencing abuse or neglect should call 9-1-1 and report the case to the police immediately. Or, contact the Vermont Council on Aging at 1-800-564-1612.

—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.


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