DeKALB – Elder Care Services is seeing more cases of abused, neglected and exploited seniors than in years past, but Tara Culotta hopes it means people are coming out of the shadows to talk about elder abuse.
Culotta, executive director of Elder Care Services, at 1701 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb, said from July 1, 2013, to June 30 of this year, the Elder Care had 170 cases of elder abuse, which include abuse, neglect and exploitation. Culotta said in years before, the organization would have handled fewer than 90 cases in that same time period.
"I think [elder abuse] has always been there, but it's more talked about now," said Culotta, "I think people are realizing there is a place you can call for help."
As the population ages, preventing abuse of the elderly has become a more common – and talked-about – problem. Elder abuse includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse, as well as confinement, neglect, deprivation and financial exploitation. The abuse can intentional or unintentional. Culotta said some abuse, such as neglect, is unintentional, primarily with people who are not used to caring for someone else.
Elder Care Services, a nonprofit agency that provides programs and education for seniors and adults with disabilities in DeKalb County, has made changes to accomodate the rise, including moving to a larger facility earlier this month.
"We've brought on more staff and we're talking to community groups," Culotta said. "We meet with every single police department in the county to explain to them what this is, and talk about collaboration so we can assist each other."
In a nod to the importance of protecting Illinois' seniors, Gov. Pat Quinn designated July as Elder Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month.
In the past year, there were 11,961 reports of abuse reported statewide, Culotta said. Culotta said there has been a rise in financial exploitation of seniors since the economic downturn in 2007. She said many people moved back in with their parents, and some seniors started taking out second or third mortgages on their homes to accommodate more expenses.
"We see a lot of financial exploitation, passive neglect," Culotta said. "We're also seeing more violent, physical abuse."
The Illinois Department on Aging has been raising awareness of elder abuse through its annual awareness and prevention campaign, said Kimberly Parker, communications manager for the department. Parker said the department urges people to break the silence on the topic by calling the Adult Protective Services hotline.
Culotta said it's important to look for potential signs of elder abuse, such as people not showing up for routine appointments or not being able to provide for themselves like they used to.
"Just check in on a person to make sure they're OK," Culotta said. "It happens to your neighbors, it can happen to your family. It's a good thing to keep your eyes open. They're are a lot of seniors trying to remain independent. Just peek in on them sometimes."