Catherine lives in an assisted living community in the Finger Lakes region. Her grandson visits her almost daily and takes advantage of her memory lapses by driving her to multiple ATM machines to withdraw hundreds to thousands of dollars to support his drug habit. When George refused to give power of attorney to his son, his son threatened to “put him in a home” where he’d never see his grandchildren again. These are just two examples of the nearly 400 cases of abuse, neglect and exploitation of older adults that are referred to Lifespan’s Elder Abuse Prevention program each year.
June 15 marks the 10th anniversary of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The event was initiated in 2006 to raise awareness about a social and public health problem that is frequently unrecognized, underreported and under prosecuted — the mistreatment of older adults. In 10 years, observance of the day has spread across the globe.
Elder abuse takes many forms. It can include physical or sexual abuse, neglect, psychological abuse or financial exploitation. Multiple forms of mistreatment often occur together. In 2011 Lifespan, in conjunction with Weill Cornell Medical Center and the New York City Department for the Aging, completed the first statewide study of elder abuse in the United States. The NYS Elder Abuse Prevalence Study found that in a one-year period 7.6 percent or 260,000 residents over 60 in the state became victims of abuse.
Much has been in accomplished in the decade since the first World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. On the national level the Elder Justice Act was passed in 2010. The act calls for additional resources for adult protective services, research and coordination of activities nationally. Locally, Lifespan has been hard at work protecting a growing population of older adults in the 10-county Finger Lakes region and educating the public and professionals throughout the state. In 2014 we trained over 5,000 people to recognize the signs of elder abuse. In 2007 the Finger Lakes Elder Abuse and Identity Theft Coalition was formed to raise awareness about elder mistreatment and exploitation. Representatives from Adult Protective Services, Offices for the Aging, law enforcement, criminal justice, health care and other organizations from the region meet to exchange information and plan activities to educate the public and improve services to abused elders.
Seven counties in the Finger Lakes region are in the third year of an innovative grant project that draws the resources of the community together in multidisciplinary teams to address cases of financial exploitation. To date the program has seen over $500,000 in court-ordered repayment or restitution agreements in cases of elder exploitation. Over $130,000 has already been recovered by victims. Lifespan, with the help of area nursing homes, has set up an elder abuse shelter system in the region to care for victims who cannot safely remain in their homes.
On World Elder Abuse Awareness Day this year we renew our commitment to protect older adults such as Catherine and George from abuse, neglect and exploitation. They deserve nothing less than a life of respect, dignity and freedom from mistreatment. You can join us in that commitment by contacting Lifespan through its Eldersource/NY Connects program at (585) 325-2800 if you have concerns about an older adult who is being abused.
Paul L. Caccamise is vice-president for program at Lifespan. Art Mason is the program director for Lifespan’s Elder Abuse Prevention Program that provides intervention in elder abuse cases and education to prevent abuse, neglect and exploitation of older adults in 10 counties in the Finger Lakes region.