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March 5, 2012

As Many as 10 Percent of Elderly Abused by In-Home Caregivers

 As many as 10 percent of elderly abused by in-home caregivers
March 02, 2012
By Matt Keeton

While seniors often are the target of a variety of telephone and Internet scams, some of the most common forms of elder abuse are committed by those closest to vulnerable adults, such as in-home caregivers.

As there are few requirements for an individual to become a caregiver, it can be difficult to find a reliable, trustworthy caregiver, Kalkaska County Commission on Aging (KCOA) Director Gay Rowell said. The KCOA can place caregivers in homes and does full background and reference checks, as well as helping families work out payment methods.

"We put caregivers in the home," Rowell said. "We do in-home services and we encourage the family to let us help."

According to nationwide statistics from independent studies compiled by the National Center on Elder Abuse, an estimated one to two million Americans age 65 and older have been injured, exploited, or mistreated by a caregiver.

"The sad reality is that most of the financial exploitation that we see is committed by somebody known to the victim," said Lynne McCollum, Legal Services Developer and Elder Abuse Prevention Specialist for the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging. "There are the investment scams and the stranger scams, foreign lotteries and that kind of thing, but what we see most frequently is somebody who was already known and trusted or have befriended someone. It’s that trust relationship that is used, then abused, to steal from and harm an adult."

The estimated frequency of elder abuse ranges from two percent to 10 percent of the elderly population nationwide and only one in 14 incidents of elder abuse in domestic settings, excluding incidents of self-neglect, as well as one in 25 incidents of financial exploitation are reported.

In cases that are reported, it can often be difficult to prove abuse has occurred, McCollum said. She said one reason why elder abuse continues to be prevalent is because many of the safety nets established to help protect people from child and domestic abuse have not been established for the protection of the elderly.

"Overall, we still are a good 10 to 20 years behind where (cases of) child abuse and domestic violence are right now," McCollum said.

Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm initiated a task force during her second term that focused on elder abuse, McCollum said.

"Out of that task force came a series of recommendations," McCollum said. "A number of those were legislative recommendations and ever since that time, we’ve been trying to get bills passed with no success."
There are 18 bills in total which constitute the "Elder Protection Package," which has already been passed by the Michigan House of Representatives and has since been acknowledged by Governor Rick Snyder, who urged the Michigan Senate in his State of the State address to pass the bills, McCollum said.

Several of the bills address issues regarding elder abuse court cases, such as proposing increased penalties for certain fraud violations and financial exploitation of vulnerable adults, permitting use of video testimony in certain cases, preventing magistrates from refusing complaints filed by people other than victims in such cases and redefining certain legal terminology regarding elder abuse.

"Some of the bills will increase penalties for financial exploitation, which will put it in line with other types of embezzlement," McCollum said. "One of the bills would prevent someone convicted of abusing a vulnerable person from inheriting from that person, unless there has been specific forgiveness granted after the conviction. Right now, the threshold at which a person is unable to inherit is first-degree murder, so we’re trying to just make it a little less lucrative to steal from a vulnerable person."

Other bills address the prevention of elder abuse, such as creating a Senior Medical Alert Program similar to the Amber Alert, requiring financial institutions to provide written discloser educating consumers about joint bank accounts, setting notice and disclosure regulations for insurance agents regarding replacement life insurance and requiring reporting of abuse to outside authorities by long-term care facility employees.

"The bills will also provide for required training for financial institutions on elder abuse, so their staffs are more aware of the issues and dynamics," McCollum said. "The latest word is that there is every intention (by the Senate) of getting these scheduled and having some hearings in early February. There are maybe some of these that will be more contentious than others, but our hope is that we can get the majority of these bills through."

Those who suspect that elder abuse has occurred are encouraged to report it, even if there is no proof, McCollum said.

Suspicions of elder abuse can be reported to Adult Protective Services through the Department of Human Services (DHS), as well as to local law enforcement. The Kalkaska County DHS can be contacted at 231-258-1200. Those seeking to report elder abuse or receive more information can contact the statewide Vulnerable Adults Help Line at 800-996-6228. Those interested in seeking a caregiver through the KCOA should contact 231-258-5030.

Contact Matt Keeton at mkeeton@michigannewspapers.com.

Warning signs of elder abuse

-Abrasions, broken bones, bruises, burns and pressure marks may indicate physical abuse, mistreatment or neglect
-Withdrawl from normal activities, a change in alertness and unusual depression may indicate emotional abuse

-Bruises around the breasts or genital region may indicate sexual abuse

-Sudden changes in financial situation may indicate financial exploitation

-Bedsores, poor hygiene, unattended medical needs and unusual weight loss may indicate neglect

-Belittling, threats and other uses of power or control by the caregiver or spouse are indicators of emotional or verbal abuse, as are strained relationships and frequent arguments.

SOURCE:    The NewsHerald
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