Battling the scourge of elder abuse

Opinion: Columns

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By Lance Taylor

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June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month. That's great. Shining a light on elder abuse is critical. But, in reality, we have to be aware of elder abuse every day. Why?

In just three of its statistics, the World Health Organization reports that:

Roughly one in six people over 60 experienced abuse in the last year;

The incidence of abuse is increasing, as many countries, including our own, have populations aging rapidly; and

The number of people worldwide over 60 will more than double to roughly two billion by 2050.

The numbers in Illinois are also alarming. Adult Protective Services at the Illinois Department of Aging reports that:

It responded to more than 16,000 reports of elder abuse in 2017. That's roughly 44 cases per day;

Financial exploitation was at the heart of 54% of elder abuse cases; and

Victims typically experience more than one kind of abuse. Financial abuse, for example, often goes hand in hand with emotional abuse.

What is elder abuse? It comes in many forms. The Department of Aging identifies seven types that are not mutually exclusive: physical, sexual, emotional, confinement, passive neglect, willful deprivation, and financial exploitation.

Illinois and the majority of other states now mandate reporting of such abuse by those who care for seniors. Under the Illinois Adult Protective Services Act, social service providers, law enforcement, and various licensed professionals who suspect abuse of someone over 60 should make a report to identified local agencies or the Department of Aging within 24 hours. And any such reporter is immune from criminal or civil liability or professional disciplinary action for having made the report. 

In Oak Park and River Forest, the critical agency is Oak Park Township Senior Services. Its email is seniors@oakparktownship.org and its phone number is 708-383-8060. Also, there is a statewide, 24-hour Adult Protective Services Hotline, which is 866-800-1409.

The General Accounting Office has reported that the single most effective way to identify elder abuse victims is by public awareness. So, for what should we be looking? Among other things, unexplained signs of injury, unusual weight loss, malnutrition or dehydration, significant or repeated withdrawals from an elder's accounts or sudden changes in the senior's financial condition and evidence of overmedication or undermedication.

With the elderly we don't always look as closely as we should. Paying attention can be challenging. We older folks may be slower, hard of hearing or short on memory. But each of us can help improve the quality of life for us vulnerable seniors by being as mindful as possible of our circumstances. And that seems well worth doing, doesn't it? 

As George Harrison wrote years ago, "Even if you're old and gray … you've still got something to say."

Lance Taylor is an Oak Park resident and attorney who practices elder law.

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