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Our View: Public’s help needed to stop elder abuse

Published: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:56 p.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 10:00 p.m. CST

Reports of abuse and neglect of the elderly have become more common in DeKalb County, and the trend seems only likely to continue as members of the baby boom generation enter their golden years.

At Elder Care Services, a nonprofit agency in DeKalb that works with the state to help seniors and disabled adults, reported cases of elder abuse almost doubled year-over-year for the period ending June 30. Statewide, the number has risen steadily since 2007.

Recent national studies of the elderly population have shown that about 7 to 10 percent reported experiencing some kind of abuse in the previous year, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.

There are many forms of elder abuse, and it can be inflicted unintentionally as well as willfully. Abuse of elderly people can be physical or emotional. It can include financial exploitation, confinement of an elderly person, or passive neglect of an older person’s needs by an inexperienced caregiver.

Victims of elder abuse are often women with an average age of 79, according to the Illinois Department on Aging website. That means the victim is probably a mother, and her abuser is likely an adult child, grandchild or other family member.

No matter how the abuse occurs, though, it must be stopped.

Experts say there are telltale signs of elder abuse, including changes in personality, missing regular appointments or changing schedule routines. Victims of physical abuse may have welts and bruises, and those suffering financial exploitation may be receiving calls from bill collectors or simply having a lower standard of living.

Illinois operates a 24-hour hotline for people to report suspected abuse, neglect or financial exploitation of an older person at 866-800-1409.

Under Illinois’ Adult Protective Services Act, people who report suspected abuse in good faith and cooperate with authorities are immune from criminal or civil liability.

Tara Culotta, the executive director of Elder Care Services, said this week that she hoped the increase in reports of elder abuse are because people are more willing to come forward. We share her hope.

However, as the population continues to age, elder abuse will become more common, and increased public vigilance as well as training for people who work with the elderly will be needed to protect the nation’s elderly from those who would do them harm – willfully or otherwise.

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