3.5-6 million cases of elder abuse reported each year in the U.S.
By Sheree Paolello
BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio
Every day in the Tri-State, many parents and grandparents are being abused by the people they trust the most. It's as common as child abuse, but we rarely hear about it.
WLWT has a look at the problem, why it goes undetected and how you can help stop it.
Charlotte Miller never imagined her father, Douglas Smith was being abused. He was 80 years old and lived in Fairfield with Charlotte's mother. But the last few years of his life he was distant and quiet.
"When you're threatened that bad, you don't want anybody to know. Every time we brought it up, he would say, ‘It's none of your business, I'll take care of it,’" Miller told WLWT News 5's Sheree Paolello.
Miller watched her dad sell his home, his boat, everything. He even took on a job after retirement.
Finally, on Nov. 1, 2006, the secret was exposed.
Miller's nephew Joey Feltner beat and kicked Smith at a storage unit in Fairfield for almost an hour.
Smith was able to drive home but he died a few days later.
Miller was stunned and heartbroken. The man who took her in, fostered her and adopted her, was beaten to death by another family member. What was worse, this abuse had been going on for years.
Miller said Feltner started off extorting her father for money, but when he wouldn't pay up or couldn't pay, Feltner would hurt him.
Miller's mother admitted to investigators that for years, Feltner would come into their bedroom in the middle of the night and punch her father in the face, just to scare him.
"It got to the point where he had nothing else to give. And when he didn't have anything else to give, Joey beat him to death and threw him away like a scrap piece paper," Miller said.
Smith is one of countless elderly people physically abused by someone they trust.
Ann Sutton Burke, the director of Aging and Caregiver Services for Jewish Family Service, said the problem is that most cases go unreported.
"People want to make it on their own. They don't want to bother other people," Burke said.
There are anywhere from 3.5 million to 6 million cases of elder abuse reported each year in the U.S.
Of the 300 senior case files Burke sees a year, 10 to 20 percent of those cases involve abuse.
"Elder abuse is a crisis in this country that people aren't aware is a crisis," Burke said.
Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser sees elder abuse so frequently, he's set up a task force and a hot line for people to report abuse.
Every month, he travels around to senior centers and nursing homes hoping to save one more person from physical and/or financial abuse.
"These criminals are sociopaths. They would steal their mother’s last nickel -- and what makes it unique is not only would they steal their mother's last nickel, they'd blame the mother for giving it to them," Gmoser said.
Burke said sadly, like in the case of Douglas Smith, most victims never come forward.
The victims would rather stay in the abusive situation they know than go to a situation they don't know.
They're embarrassed, ashamed and afraid of losing their independence. Or in some cases, the victims have health issues such as dementia, so they aren't sure what's really going on.
Burke said to look for warning signs like significant changes. Emotional or physical changes are red flags.
Miller said even when your parent or loved one denies something is wrong, go with your gut -- investigate.
She only wishes she had. It's been eight years since Charlotte lost her father but time has not healed her wounds.
"Really there's not pain there, there's more anger, I mean rage of anger. It'll never go away," Smith said.
Feltner was convicted of murder and abduction and is serving 15 years to life in prison.
To report a elder abuse in Butler County, call 1-888-662-3673.
To report abuse in any area of the Tri-State call Jewish Family Service at 513-469-1188.
For more information on warning signs: www.jfscinti.org
Click for Updates, More Cases and Resources
Search LABELS for More Resources