Aging America: Elder abuse, use of shelters rising

She raises her hands to her snow-white hair in a gesture of frustrated bewilderment, then slowly lowers them to cover eyes filling with tears. The woman, in her 70s, is trying to explain how she wound up in a shelter that could well be where she spends the rest of her life.
Associated Press
Jan 28, 2013

While the woman was living with a close family member, officials at the Shalom Center say, her money was being drained away by people overcharging for her grocery shopping, while her body and spirit were sapped by physical neglect and emotional torment. She says she was usually ordered to "go to bed," where she lay in a dark room, upset, unable to sleep.

"She just yelled at me all the time. Screamed at me, cussed me out," the woman says of a family member. "I don't know what happened. She just got tired of me, I guess."

The Shalom Center offers shelter, along with medical, psychological and legal help, to elderly abuse victims in this northern Cincinnati suburb. It is among a handful in the country that provide sanctuary from such treatment, a problem experts say is growing along with the age of the nation's population.

The number of Americans 65 and over is projected to nearly double by 2030 because of the 74 million baby boomers born in 1946-64, and the number of people 85 and over is increasing even faster rate. The number of seniors being abused, exploited or neglected every year is often estimated at about 2 million, judging by available statistics and surveys, but experts say the number could be much higher. Some research indicates that 1 in 10 seniors have suffered some form of abuse at least once.

"That's a big number," said Sharon Merriman-Nai, project director of the Clearinghouse on Abuse and Neglect of the Elderly, based at the University of Delaware. "It's a huge issue, and it's just going to get bigger."

Recognition of and mechanisms for dealing with elder abuse are many years behind strides that have been made in child abuse awareness and protection, experts say.

Getting comprehensive numbers of the abused is complicated, experts say, because the vast majority of cases go unreported out of embarrassment, fear of being cut off from family — most abuse is at the hands of relatives — or confusion about what has happened.

Abuse sometimes comes to light only by chance. County-level adult protective services caseworkers can get anonymous tips. In one recent Ohio case, a hair stylist noticed her elderly client was wincing in pain and got her to acknowledge she had been hit in the ribs by a relative. Another Shalom Center patient was referred by sheriff's detectives who said his son beat him.

"Are these older people going to be allowed to live their lives the way they deserve to?" said Carol Silver Elliott, CEO of the Cedar Village retirement community, of which the Shalom Center is a part. "We really are not addressing it as a society the way we should."

The Obama administration has said it has increased its focus on protecting American seniors by establishing a national resource center and a consumer protection office, among other steps. But needs are growing at a time when government spending on social services is being cut on many levels or not keeping up with demand.

In Ohio, slowly recovering from the recession, budgets have been slashed in such areas as staffs that investigate elderly abuse cases.

Staff at the Jobs and Family Services agency in Hamilton County in Cincinnati is about half the size it was in 2009, spokesman Brian Gregg said. Even as national statistics indicate elder abuse is increasing, the number of elder abuse cases the agency can probe is lower, down from 574 cases in 2009 to 477 last year, he said.

There are no longer enough adult protective services investigators to routinely check on older adults unless there is a specific report of abuse or neglect.

"We do the best we can down here," Gregg said, noting that the agency has a hotline to take anonymous reports and that it is seeing more financial scams targeting elderly people.

The price for not getting ahead of the problem and preventing abuse of people who would otherwise be healthy and financially stable will be high, warned Joy Solomon, a former Manhattan assistant prosecutor who helped pioneer elder abuse shelters with the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention, which opened in 2005 at the Hebrew Home community in New York City.

"My argument always is, if all you do is come in when the crisis has occurred, it is much more costly than preventative care," said Solomon, director of the shelter, which takes in about 15 people a year. "We're going to have to pay for it anyway."

She and others in the field say the first steps are to raise public awareness and train police, lawyers, criminal justice officials and others to recognize and respond to signs of abuse.

Prosecutors often have been reluctant to purse elder abuse cases, which can be complex because of medical and financial complications, the witness' ability to testify or reluctance to testify against relatives, according to research for the National Institute of Justice.

In suburban Los Angeles, Orange County started an Elder Abuse Forensic Center nearly 10 years ago; it helps police, geriatrics specialists, lawyers and social services workers coordinate efforts to identify, investigate and prosecute abuse cases.

New York City started its Elder Abuse Center to 2009 to bring a multi-organization approach to the problem, saying nearly 100,000 older people are abused in their homes in the city alone. While he was Ohio's attorney general, Richard Cordray, now director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, initiated in 2009 the state Elder Abuse Commission, something current Attorney General Mike DeWine has continued.

The commission has focused on training and education and hopes to launch a public awareness campaign this year, said Ursel McElroy, the longtime adult protection services investigator who leads it. The commission also has been pushing for legislation to improve legal protection and abuse prevention, expand training, and improve statistical data.

In New York, part of the Weinberg Center's mission is to help other communities replicate it. It has assisted shelter startups in upstate New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Minnesota along with the Shalom Center in Ohio.

The center marked its anniversary in January. While more than 40 people have been referred to the nonprofit, faith-based center, only three have gone through with admittance, signs of the reluctance of people who fear losing family relationships — even if they are bad — or the feeling of being at home.

Set up as a "virtual shelter" because victims are integrated into the full Cedar Village retirement community, it is meant to provide 60- to 90-day emergency stays while caseworkers provide help and seek out the best alternative, such as with a different caregiver or relative.

In the case of the woman who complained of abuse in a relative's home, a call to adult protective services by someone familiar with her led to an investigation and her referral to the shelter.

She has little money, health problems and few alternatives, and after a while, she asked if she could stay at Cedar Village permanently. Caseworkers and officials at the nonprofit, faith-based home agreed that was the best place for her.

The center asked that her identity be protected for this story because the close relatives who allegedly abused her don't know where she is.

She paints, plays in a residents' bell choir, plays bingo with others regularly, and has her own room and TV to watch favorites such as "Ellen" and reruns of "I Love Lucy."

The healthy diet the center keeps her on means she misses some of her favorite foods — beans and corn bread, fried pork chops. But she loves the tuna salad, the group activities and having a life with people who care about her.

"I've got quite a few friends," she says. "They're just nice people here. I have somebody to talk to, and I appreciate it."

 

Comments

Contango

From the article:

"The number of Americans 65 and over is projected to nearly double by 2030 because of the 74 million baby boomers born in 1946-64, and the number of people 85 and over is increasing even faster rate."

The cost of the vast majority of nursing home residents is "free," paid for by Medicaid.

The avg. annual cost of nursing home care is around $100K.

The baby boomers will aid in the bankrupting of this country.

deertracker

Wrong again pooh! If you are in a nursing home you have to give up any income of any sort to get the medicaid which unless you have the funds to self pay is the only other form of payment the nursing home will take. Medicare nor health insurance pays for the nursing home. I have relatives in a nursing facility and it is not "free" to either of them. What do you want them to do? Get a job at 60+ even though they are too sick to walk? Who pays the 100k? Not medicaid! You really need to educate yourself before you go on one of your rants!

Contango

@ deertracker:

Medicaid ain't free for the residents? Give me some facts, not opinions.

Most residents can't afford the $100K annually and few if any have long-term care ins.

And yes, I have and know seniors in nursing homes.

Financial and economic ignorance ain't gonna save ya bambie - pay up!

https://www.metlife.com/mmi/rese...

deertracker

What is going to save you? Are you going to give all your well invested millions to a nursing home? No! You will transfer them to other family members and go on medicaid. Get a clue pooh!

Contango

@ deertracker:

I have a relative who is bleeding through his assets in order to keep a loved one in a nursing home.

I will do the same if necessary. Medicaid will be a last resort.

Besides, Medicaid has "claw back" provisions. It ain't that simple to just "give" your assets away.

Also, some states have "filial support" laws regarding payment for care - look it up bambie.

The Big Dog's back

winnie, should we fire up the ovens?

Contango

"70% of all nursing home residents are on Medicaid."

http://news.firedoglake.com/2011...

deertracker

I gave you some facts pooh. You only read what sounds good, forget about the facts. If you get sick and can't pay for nursing care, you HAVE to go on medicaid. Comprende????

Contango

@ deertracker:

Agree. My question is: When does the 70% become 90% or more?

Anymore, most seniors reach retirement broke and have only Soc. Security to live on.

You wanna have a mature discussion or continue to be a POS?

wetsu

The intent on their part is not to bankrupt, that's your boys in D.C. It was fine when the Boomers bank rolled everything for decades though, correct?

Contango

@ wetsu:

The boomers kids are comin' home to live with 'em after graduation 'cause they can't find jobs and mom and dad are increasingly comin' to live with 'em too!

http://www.aarp.org/money/budget...

And the boomers were considered selfish and called the "Me Generation"? Give "me" a break!

luvblues2

Blame Hitler and WWII. That's the only reason all those babies happened. You really have to find something different, dude.

Contango

@ luvblues2:

What about Tojo and IL Duce?

It's purely a matter of demographics and economics Pork Chop.

Better read some of Ken Dychtwald's work.

http://www.agewave.com/

shucks

Better read some of God's work.

grandmasgirl

Who really cares how this is paid for? Some of you complain about this, but it's ok for age 20 and 30 somthing's to rape the system. I can guarantee you that most of the seniors in nursing homes have put in their years of work. It is just a shame that no one wants to take care of them. There are relatives out there that do want to take their loved ones into their homes, but because they have to work to support the ones who don't want to, they can't. Then there are the ones who do care for their family members. God bless them.

Contango

@ grandmasgirl:

Don't misunderstand. I'm merely pointing out that with the 78 million or so baby boomers, and entitlements like Medicaid paying for nursing homes, this country is facing an economic and fiscal demographic train wreck.

Simply multiply the current number getting taxpayer funded care in nursing homes with the up and coming baby boomers.

You want 85% or more of your income goin' to taxes? Good luck raising a family, saving for retirement and feeding yourself.

grandmasgirl

I understand what you are saying, but I have a bigger problem paying for young people who think that they system will give them anything they want (which it does) than paying for some old soul who has worked all their life. I believe that if any of these seniors in nursing homes could work, they would. We never had a lot when I was growing up, but we never took charity. Now, people stand around with their hands out EXPECTING others to take care of them. There is very little excuse for girls who have one baby after another and expect the taxpayers to pay to raise it.

Contango

@ grandmasgirl:

Reads like we're in agreement.

The country is borrowing approx. 50 cents of every dollar it spends - it can't continue.

Taxpayer funded care for the millions of baby boomers in just one of the many larger fiscal issues.

deertracker

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

grandmasgirl

Let me clarify myself to you. God bless the ones who do take care of their loved ones. God bless the ones who would take care of their loved ones if they could. I am not saying God bless the ones who wouldn't if they could.
Deertracker: why is it that you always think you know everything. You don't. People like you are one of the reasons this country is in debt. You always seem to stick up for the ones who want and expect a handout. BTW.....I am thinking about what I am typing. AND I re-read it before I hit "save".

deertracker

How nice of you to clarify. I never claimed to know everything, I just think you type before you think. Explain how I contribute to the debt of this country. See, there you go again. You do not know anything about me. I have no problem trying to help those that may be in need. You are being judgemental when you say they "expect a handout". How do you know this and who exactly are you referring to?

grandmasgirl

Maybe I was to harsh to say that you contribute to the debt, but in the comments you make, you seem willing to give money away to anyone who CLAIMS to need it. This country is going downhill fast and I for one think people should pay their own way. You are right in the fact that I don't know you, but I do know that I am tapped out in the charity department. I am tired of seeing my neighbor who can go drinking, partying, etc. sit at home because she has a "mental" issue. I am tired of hearing how a welfare mom just had another baby. I am tired of people blaming people for getting old (an accident when they drive, going into a nursing home, etc). If some of the younger people would work as hard as the older generation, maybe the national debt would decrease. I read every word that I have written.

luvblues2

Pork Chop? :) What does that mean in your world?

Contango

@ luvblues2:

"Dude"? What does that mean in your world?

shucks

.

luvblues2

" I guarantee you all. I will be eating gold when food stops happening and when I poop, I will do it in a bucket to melt it down and relive the dream again!"

Contango
circa Jan, '13

Contango

@ luvblues2:

Glad we could have a serious and mature discussion Cupcake. :)

luvblues2

If we can't laugh at each other, all we have left is to look in the mirror and laugh at ourselves. :) Sometimes that works, sometimes not. But we damn sure gotta laugh or we'll be killin' each other.

shucks

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

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