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."




It is appalling that you feel that baby boomers will bankrupt the country. First of all, the country is not in debt because of medicaid, medicare or welfare. It is from other government spending, much on defense and other programs. Taxpayers don't fund all government spending either. Many people have their own arrangements for old age and retirement. Not every baby boomer will rely on the state or country to pay their nursing home care. Not all of them will end up in a nursing home either. Your assumption that we are a burden to the country shows your ignorance. Our country is not in debt because of people that have to be cared for-it's in debt because of greedy rich people that want it all (banks, insurance companies, Donald Trump).


reporter54 writes:

"First of all, the country is not in debt because of medicaid, medicare or welfare."

The "facts" say otherwise.

Defense is about 3% of GDP - "drop in the bucket."

Keep "whistlin' past the grave yard."


Might as well give him all the figures. FY 12 Defense spending $964.8 billion or 25% of the federal budget. Entitlement programs $1.557 trillion or 67% of the federal budget.

That's an awful lot of money to pay for programs that are not even listed in the Constitution as being a role of the federal gov't unlike Defense.


I worked as an Adult Protective Services Investigator and it was the best and hardest position I ever held. It was also one of the saddest and the one that caused me the most anxiety, causing me to wonder about my own elder years as a childless woman. I would still be there but I moved back here to be close to my family. Due to lack of funding our hands were tied a lot of the time. Also, adults, as long as they are competent, can choose to live with the ones who abuse, neglect, and/or exploit them. Many do because the other alternative is long-term skilled nursing facility. We worked with many to enable them to live independently with services through Passport and Hospice. However, others we could not help. APS does not have the backing that Children Services does. I had many elders ask me who should they call after 4pm and it was always the police because unlike Children Services we did not have after hours on-call. I worked with childless widows/widowers and elders who thought they had worked hard enough, saved enough, and would be able to grow old and eventually die in comfort and dignity not in poverty. I have seen the elderly lose everything they worked so hard to attain. I have seen them sit alone in their homes and cry. I have seen the childless couples blame their situation on not having children to help care for them. I have seen the elderly be ignored and neglected by children who are too busy to deal with them. I have had them beg for me to leave them alone in their homes to die because they could not face the loneliness and the fact that this is how their lives would end. DO NOT TELL ME MEDICAID IS A HANDOUT FOR OUR ELDERLY!!!!!!!!! We all will grow old someday if we are lucky or not so lucky. For those who want to make this a political issue about our government debt you have no clue. You too will someday be in their shoes. Old and needing care, costly care. It is the very, very, very few who are private pay in skilled nursing facilities. I really hope you have the resources to pay your own way as an elderly person. I really, really hope you do because you will be happier, live longer, and die with pride and dignity. If not then I hope Medicaid is there to pay for your care and I hope you are able to swallow your pride and not feel that your are taking a handout and realize that you deserve the assistance and care in order to live comfortably as possible and as independently as possible until it is your turn to leave this world. What do you know about growing old? What do any of us know except for what are told and what see? There is no manual for growing old. We all do the best we can to prepare but in the words of one elderly gentleman when I asked him what he needed and what I could do to help him, "I don't know. I have never been old before." That statement will live with me forever.


No funding for old people, but plenty for PRISONS.


happycamper01 writes:

"...hope Medicaid is there to pay for your care,"

My "point" exactly! Now multiply that by 78 million or so boomer seniors.

Are you familiar with Ken Dychtwald?

He pointed out these demographic issues several decades ago.


I do not give a flying rat's patootie about Ken Dychtwald. I only care about the elderly getting the care they need and deserve. Yes, it pays and it should. Who else is to pay for their care when they can't? And the majority can't. In a perfect world planned retirements and savings would be enough but alas, this is far from a perfect world. So, take your beef about bankrupting this country and place it somewhere else. If all you care about is the national debt then I fear in your elder years you will be in for a very rude awakening.


@ happycamper01:

My point: So where's the money gonna come from to pay for all these entitlement benefits?

Since we're borrowing almost 50 cents of every dollar spent now, what do you suggest, just keep raising taxes on the few that are working?

Did you "actually" read the above article?

You write: "If all you care about is the national debt then I fear in your elder years you will be in for a very rude awakening."

If we DON'T care about the "national debt," we're ALL gonna be in for a "very rude awakening" when the money runs out.


Happy won't read the article because for liberals, facts alude them, unless of course they are being spouted from PMSNBC, then it is gospel. LOL


Read my post below and I don't think I my beliefs make me a pure liberal nor am I am a conservative. I am an independent realist with a heart. I have been on the front lines of social services. I have seen the best and the worst of people. You judge me because of my job? Because I care and protect our most vulnerable citizens? Go ahead because one day you will need the very care you are putting down. I hope you are not too proud to accept it. Who knows maybe I will be the one protecting you and making sure you get the care you need and deserve??? I sure hope I have more compassion for you than you have for others.


You attack entitlement programs. Why not attack other programs? The space program, the military, the salary of our leaders, there is unnecessary spending everywhere. Start cutting there first and there will be money to pay. Also, cut entitlement programs for people under 60 who are not disabled and able to work. If they can't or won't support their kids give them to someone who can. Lower the cost of living so that those who are trying can be self-supporting. Mandatory sterilization for deadbeat parents. Yes, I am a social worker. Yes, I have worked for Children Service and APS. I have worked in mental health and for adults with developmental disabilities. I know the abuse that an entitlement system bring and it is high time to end the abuse of the system. However, I will never advocate for ending Medicaid or care for our most vulnerable citizens of this country: our children, our disabled, and our elderly.


@ happycamper01:

I don't disagree with you on several of your points. The problem is getting political, social and economic buy-in.

As a percentage, entitlement spending is projected to increase, engulf and eventually surpass the entire federal budget in the coming decades.

The projected unfunded liabilities of Soc. Sec., Medicare and Medicaid alone are over $100 trillion.

Like people, countries have and do go bankrupt.

As an example: Keep an eye on the state of IL. Their public employee pension benefits are bankrupting the state.


Military spending is a third of what entitlement spending is. Besides that, defense is a responsibility of the federal gov't enumerated in the constitution. Health and Welfare benefits are not one of the powers granted the federal gov't by the constitution. These things were meant to be handled at the state level.


Good point, jon491.

Perhaps we can be lectured on exactly where corporate welfare exists in the Constitution.


@ wetsu:

We're off topic; but kindly define "corp. welfare."

As is said: One person's subsidy is another person's tax.

Hey! I'm all for eliminating the 16th Amend. and possibly replacing it with something like a VAT, but the Progressives have other ideas.

The above is a lefty site, so ya know that they only write "the truth." :)

BTW: When (not "if") interest rates begin to climb, the U.S. could end up spending $1T (and more) annually in order to service it's federal debt.


Essentially grants and to an extent tax consideration in an uncompetitive situation. Maybe crony capitalism would have been a better term. It may be inaccurate, but, the bank bail outs including zero interest loans fits into my image of corporate welfare. I soften the position somewhat where seed money for the purpose of venture capitalism is concerned, although my guess is that there has been plenty of abuse in that realm to go around. You're correct, I participated in getting the thread off topic.


@ wetsu:

Speakin' of "crony capitalism," here's one for ya.

Ally Bank (the old GMAC) is still mostly owned by taxpayers and the govt. can't figure out how to get out of it.

Intelligent and civil off-topic is OK with me.


If it goes bankrupt then we all suffer. If it goes bankrupt it is because of the selfish leader and citizens who take without giving, who take what they are not entitled to get by lying and/or being lazy. If we stop the nonsense then this country can sustain itself. We will go bankrupt because, like parents who come seeking help for their out of control children and end up being told they need to learn appropriate parenting skills and then end up leaving because it is not their fault that their child behaves that way, no one wants to change or be held accoutable. Not the majority including our leaders, the rich, middle class, or poor.


@ happycamper01:

Understood. But as is said: Wantin' ain't gettin'.

The tendency is not to fix the hole in the roof when it's sunny but to keep puttin' it off to a later date.

There was a near riot in CA when the EBT cards malfunctioned. Imagine a whole country filled with tens of millions being weaned of the "dole"?

"Japan To Slash Welfare Benefits In Attempt To Root Out 'Comfortably Poor'":

The Big Dog's back

Fire up the ovens err winnie.


The Voodoo-Doctor in Chief BHO has already got you covered with his "death panels"

Give grannie a "pill."


Coming from a hater- it appears edited. Regardless, it's not saying what you want it to say, Mr.Goebbels.


Elder abuse is wrong. Yet many reasons why it is getting worse. Big Dog he got out - gunned here & knows it. Like so many other Americans he never did with out & knew a better economy. Now it isn't so funny. Welcome to the future of real struggles..."gold ain't gonna help ya."

Julie R.

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

Julie R.

Hey SR, why did you remove my comment when it was the truth? Everybody is saying that the elderly are bankrupting Medicaid and I'm here to say that's a flat-out LIE. It's not the elderly that are defrauding Medicaid --- the elderly are the victims, too.


@ Julie R.:

In spite of the best intentions by the wrongheaded politicos, ALL entitlement programs have become sad costly Ponzi schemes.

Julie R.

Gee, I don't know how those two power of attorney FRAUDS from Huron ever managed to get my elderly mother when she was in the end stages of Alzheimers on Medicaid during the majority of the eleven months she was in a nursing home when their wealthy old Italian stepfather never spent down even one cent of their JOINT ASSETS for Medicaid eligibility.


@ Julie R.:

Reads like you need to contact HHS and/or the OH Bar. And they can add it to the mile-high pile of fraud cases to investigate.

The system is corrupt. QED

The Big Dog's back

Capitalistic societies are built to be corrupt. More money, more influence.