A clutch of Orange County officials expressed their determination to protect the elder members of the community at an event at the county offices in Goshen, N.Y. on June 15.
Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus joined District Attorney David Hoovler, Office for the Aging Director AnnMarie Maglione, and Commissioner of Social Services and Acting Commissioner of Mental Health Darcie Miller to observe World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), which aims to raise understanding about elder abuse and neglect in the community.
“The elder members of our community are some of the most trusting, honest people and they expect the people coming to the door are the same, and that’s not always the truth,” said Neuhaus.
Every year, an estimated five million older Americans are victims of some type of elder abuse. It is estimated that only about one in five of those crimes are ever discovered. According to The National Clearing House on Abuse Later in Life, each year an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims of physical, psychological, and other forms of abuse.
WEAAD was launched in 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization to raise awareness of the cultural, social, economic, and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.
Hoovler said the number of abuse complaints has risen dramatically. “Some of it’s mental, some of it’s emotional, but it is overwhelmingly financial-related.”
He said the problem is not an easy one to prosecute. “In probably 60 percent of the cases, we do not find anything that’s improper because the family member that is older doesn’t remember what they said.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging, elders throughout the United States lose an estimated $2.6 billion or more annually due to elder financial abuse and exploitation.
The Baby Boomer generation is reaching retirement, an increase of 8.8 million since 2003. Today about one in every seven, or 14 percent, of the population is an older American.
Baby Boomers who are 65 can expect to live about another 20 years. About 67,500 celebrated their 100th birthday in 2013. As many as 14.6 percent of older adults live below the poverty level.
For many reasons, many incidents go unreported Maggione said. “A lot of the cases go unreported because there is a lot of shame, there’s a lot of embarrassment.”
An elderly person also has strong emotional ties to the perpetrator of improper behavior. “A lot of times it’s family members, so they don’t want to get them in trouble.”
Hoovler said this is changing. “More people are aware of financial exploitation that occurs and they are willing to make the call.” He said a neighbor may be more in touch with an elderly person than even a relative who stops in once or twice a month.
Miller said her department receives about 700 complaints a year; most are opened and investigated. She said Social Services presently has around 180 open cases that are monitored every month. The department will also take on guardianship of an elder if necessary.
Neuhaus said in cases where individuals are arrested and prosecuted for elder abuse, their names will be released to the public.
“I’ll work in trying to raise awareness of this and the experts in Orange County are standing by ready to help.”
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