The Wilson County Senior Citizens Awareness Network is about to reach the end of its Elder Abuse Awareness Month campaign, but SCAN personnel said awareness should remain high.
“Elder abuse is present in Wilson County. We know from statistics and research that it is one of the most unreported crimes simply because of the target groups that it happens to,” said SCAN director Debbie Paré.
The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations started the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, 2006.
Paré said Wilson County’s Elder Abuse Awareness Month was birthed from that day after a conversation with Wilson County Sheriff Robert Bryan.
“I talked to Sheriff Bryan said let’s kick off a campaign. Our goal in that was, first and foremost, education to help identify these individuals and raise awareness. We knew we had to educate the public to what it looked like,” she said.
“Our next step was to tell them what to do about it. Also, we had to remind them that not unlike child abuse, elder abuse is required by law to be reported. We are a mandatory reporting state. Elder abuse falls under that. People are not tasked with proving it, just reporting it.”
Sgt. Don Witherspoon, SCAN liaison, said many people don’t know the different types of elder abuse, which includes physical, sexual, emotional and psychological and, most commonly, financial.
“We see this a lot where someone – family member, friend or someone declaring themselves as family – goes and gets a piece of paper that says they that power of attorney over this elder. Then, they start financially abusing them. They take money out of their account and use it for their own use instead of for the elder,” Witherspoon said.
Elders throughout the country lose an estimated $2.6 billion or more annually due to elder financial abuse and exploitation, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“No one can get power of attorney unless that elder gives that person power of attorney. The other way is if a person goes before a judge and the judge rules that elder is incompetent to handle affairs, then the judge can appoint someone,” Witherspoon said.
He said some cases include multiple types of abuses. One case included an elderly woman who was removed from an assisted living facility by her family in order for them to gain access to her monthly income.
The family limited her meals to one a day, limited her mobility by taking her walker and took away her television, as well as physically abused the woman.
In conjunction with the home health nurse and SCAN, the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office was able to get the woman back into the assisted living facility.
Paré said the example highlights the ability of SCAN to work with law enforcement since they work in close conjunction. Wilson County is one of five of Tennessee’s 95 counties with a SCAN program. The program has been in existence for 16 years in Wilson County.
SCAN volunteers make home visits to check on the safety and security of elders enrolled in the program. SCAN officers make personal contact, provide home security surveys, crime prevention information and information related to local social and community services.
“What we got coming with the baby boomers that are reaching the age of retirements is what we call a tsunami of seniors. It’s a good term to use because it’s accurate. So, it’s not something that’s going to get better and escalate, unless, through education, we slow it up,” Witherspoon said.
“It can just simply be a concern. Bring it to us, so we can get it to the right people,” Paré said. “Just because our campaign ends, don’t let our awareness drop off. Still be vigilant about what is happening around us, because there are people professionally situated to help. You can very well save a life.”
People 65 years and older numbered 46.2 million in 2014. They represented 14.5 percent of Americans, about one in every seven people. By 2060, there will be an estimated 98 million elderly people, which is expected to be 21.7 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
By Xavier Smith