Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate

On March 2, 90-year-old actor Mickey Rooney testified before the Senate Special Committee on Aging in Washington D.C. He admitted that he had been a victim of elder abuse.

Rooney’s stepson Christopher Aber intimidated him and blocked access to his mail. He bullied Rooney by withholding medication and food. Aber stole Rooney’s money. Rooney says he suffered in silence for years because he did not have the courage to ask for help. Eventually he won a court order turning his affairs over to an attorney. He got a restraining order against his stepson who must now stay away from Rooney and his home.

It took the courage of a celebrity like Rooney to help bring yet another important issue out of the shadows. To his enormous credit, he’s been tirelessly speaking out across the country as an advocate for elder abuse prevention.

Senate Aging Committee Chairman Sen. Herb Kohl. D-Wis. , center, gets a hug from entertainer Mickey Rooney, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 2, 2011, as Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. looks on at left, prior to Rooney testify about elder abuse, before the committee. (Photo: Associated Press)

 

People who deal with the fallout of elder abuse know the scope of the problem, and it’s nothing less than shocking.

 

  • A study by the Government Accountability Office released at the hearing estimated 14 percent of older Americans experienced some form of abuse in 2009.
  • A study done by MetLife Mature Market Institute in 2009 estimated the financial loss from elder abuse to be at least $2.6 billion a year. But this is really just an educated guess.
  • The same MetLife study found that only one in six cases of financial elder abuse is ever reported.

Elder abuse prosecutor Paul Greenwood of the San Diego County District Attorney’s office says he expects an explosion of elder abuse cases in the next five to ten years as the first wave of the baby boomers reaches age 65.

Greenwood says financial abuse of a senior is a violent crime, because it can have a devastating effect on that person’s life. Someone in their 70s or 80s may never recover from the financial loss. He believes it may even shorten a senior’s lifespan, because he or she simply loses the will to live.

Sometimes seniors are victimized by strangers, but frequently, as in Rooney’s case, they are victimized by a relative, a caregiver, or someone else they know well.

How can you protect your older family and friends from elder abuse?

  • If you hire a caregiver for older relatives, be sure to hire from a reputable agency where personnel are supervised and go through a complete background check.
  • Look for signs of unexplained, repeated physical injuries such as bruising or scrapes, or rapid weight loss.
  • Be wary when a senior suddenly has a “new best friend” in his or her life assisting with their personal affairs, especially if the person moves into their home.
  • If a senior suddenly becomes withdrawn or seems depressed, it’s time for an assessment.
  • If the senior seems to be unable to keep up with housekeeping or personal grooming, look into the cause.
  • Monitor legal paperwork and financial relationships. Check with financial institutions about their policies for identifying and reporting possible elder abuse. Some banks train their personnel to be alert to this.
  • If your relatives resist having you “meddle” in their affairs, find a professional third party who can provide money management.
  • Phone calls are not enough. Make unannounced visits. If you cannot do it, find someone reliable who can.
  • If you do not live in the same community, get to know neighbors, friends, and others you can contact. Have them check in and report back to you.

IF YOU SUSPECT ELDER ABUSE

  • It is better to call and report elder abuse and be wrong than to miss reporting a case.
  • Adult Protective Services agencies investigate reports of elder abuse in private homes, acute care hospitals, and adult day care centers. California requires all counties to provide a 24 hour, seven day a week hotline to report suspected abuse.

If you believe someone might be in physical danger, call 9-1-1 without hesitation.

Consider also reaching out to organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association, Parkinson’s Disease Association, and others with experience working with seniors.

Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!

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