Elder Abuse Awareness Month highlights rampant, yet under-reported problem

Published 7:15 pm Tuesday, June 26, 2018

July is Elder Abuse Awareness Month. If the term doesn’t ring a bell, that’s because it’s one of the least reported types of abuse out there.

Every year, it’s estimated that 1 in 10 older Americans are victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation. That statistic only tells part of the story.

“I would to have say that I feel like elder abuse is not highlighted enough, and we probably have a lot more cases that are out there, but people don’t report it out of family privacy or pride,” said Lori Leggett, adult services supervisor with Beaufort County Department of Social Services.

Leggett gave examples of elder abuse in its three forms: abuse, neglect and exploitation. Abuse can be physical or verbal abuse.

“We don’t receive as many abuse reports, like physically hitting somebody. It’s more verbal abuse, talking really ugly — ‘I’m going to put you in a nursing home.’ It’s kind of scare-tactic stuff,” Leggett said. “Isolating people in rooms, like Alzheimer’s patients, secluding them in a room and locking the door.”

Neglect can come from either caretaker or the victim, she said.

“They’re not getting to doctors’ appointments. They’re not taking their medicines. It could be that they’re doing it to themselves or their caretakers are doing it,” Leggett said.

Exploitation is defined by anyone — a family member, a friend, a stranger — using the elderly person’s assets, money or property to benefit themselves, such as someone convincing an elderly person to transfer money.

Leggett said DSS receives 230-250 cases of elder abuse each year. All are investigated by private interviews with the reported victim, then collateral interviews with any doctors or other professionals involved. Some cases turn out to be nothing; others are handled through services offered by DSS. Still other, more extreme, cases are handed over to the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office for investigation.

Leggett said the 1 and 10 statistic is high, and cases reported in Beaufort County don’t reflect it.

“We’re not getting that amount of reports in this county, so we know that hundreds of reports aren’t called in,” she said. “A lot of it’s pride. People just don’t want (authorities) to think, ‘I couldn’t take care of my parents.’”

Elder abuse can be reported by anyone concerned about an elderly person who appears to be mistreated by others or is not taking care of themselves. To report elder abuse, call 252-940-6042 during working hours or the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office at 252-946-7111 after hours and ask to speak to a social worker. A social worker will return the call.

“We do take reports 24 hours a day, so even after hours there’s an on-call system,” Leggett said. “It doesn’t just stop after 5 p.m.”