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November 15, 2011

Protecting 'the people who took care of us'

Nov. 13, 2011

When Marie-Therese Connolly describes suspicious-looking bruises on the elderly, she sounds like a forensic expert on CSI.
Bruises on the neck, head, inner thigh, genitalia and soles of the feet are often inflicted and can be telltale signs of elder abuse, one of the most hidden problems in the nation, she says.
"If we can help people understand how to tell the difference between an accidental bruise and an inflicted bruise, that's a beginning," says Connolly, director of Life Long Justice, a Washington, D.C., non-profit group dedicated to advocating justice for the elderly. "Advancing forensic knowledge is important so social and protective services workers, physicians, emergency room personnel and prosecutors know what to look for and what kinds of questions to ask about injuries."
Perhaps no one has done more to address the problem and bring about change. In naming Connolly, 54, a 2011 MacArthur Fellow in September, the MacArthur Foundation announced that "she is a leading voice to prevent the suffering of older adults and ensure that elder abuse becomes a priority on the national agenda."
The $500,000 grant is allowing the former Department of Justice attorney to write a book on the subject and continue her work crisscrossing the country giving speeches and working with a handful of university and other programs to push for change.
"It's a big help," she says. Since leaving her job and moving into an advocacy role three years ago, she has not drawn a salary.
"The fact that a respected entity like the MacArthur Foundation decided this is an issue worth investing in is a real game-changer," says Connolly. "It is an epidemic and will only become bigger as the 77 million Baby Boomers age."
Most cases not reported
Preying on the elderly comes in many forms: physical, sexual and/or financial. It happens at home, in communities and in nursing homes. One in 10 healthy adults over age 60 are victims, according to phone surveys done by the National Institute on Justice. Among adults with dementia, a study done by University of California-Irvine shows 47(PERCENT) cared for by family members are abused or neglected. As many as 96(PERCENT) of cases go unreported, Connolly says.
"She wants people to know we're morally responsible to take care of the people who took care of us," says Laura Mosqueda, a physician and director of the program in geriatrics at the University of California-Irvine School of Medicine.
"She really single-handedly, through the power of intelligence, persuasion and personality, launched the conversation on the issues."


Abridged
SOURCE:     NewsLeader.com
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