Recently at the National Conference for Geriatric Care Managers, Lillian Jeter, an elder abuse expert, woke up the audience to the stark realities of the elder abuse that is proliferating throughout our nation.

In 1985, Jeter was not only the first female sergeant in the Charleston (Pennsylvania) Police Department, but also made the first arrest for an elder abuse case. In that case, a daughter had neglected her father to the point of starvation and imminent death before police became involved after getting a tip from a home care worker who found the door repeatedly padlocked.

When the judge gave the daughter parole, Jeter made it her mission to bring awareness, change and justice for those who are victims of elder abuse.

Jeter has not stopped in her advocacy. She now works as a consultant internationally for high profile elder abuse crimes, is a regular on ABC’s Australia syndicate “Lateline” and travels the United States as a presenter and trainer.

What does she tell us? That 10 percent of people 60 and older are reportedly victims of elder abuse. However, it is estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse are ever reported to police.

Some 86 percent of abuse crimes are in the form of neglect, physical abuse and exploitation of money. The majority of abusers are a trusted caregiver, paid or unpaid.

Jeter stated that caregivers who are paid privately have grown to be the number one source of perpetrators of elder abuse. Unlike those who are hired through a registered and licensed home care agency, these workers are paid directly by the family or client and normally for less than an agency charges. This is a volatile mix. The second group of perpetrators is, unfortunately, family members, which makes it even more difficult for police to prosecute because it frequently goes unreported or unnoticed.

And we are not just talking physical abuse. Financial exploitation, the misuse of financial assets and money is prevalent in our society, especially in these difficult economic times.

It is common for a potential abuser to become the “trusted” advisor to the senior, slowly creating a dependency while those on the outside see withdrawal. Furthermore, those with a dementia diagnosis are in a higher risk category because of the inability to substantiate claims.

I recently submitted testimony to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee at the State House in favor of LD 527: An Act to Protect Elders and Vulnerable Adults from Exploitation. This bill would change the language of 17-A MRSA §109 to give further protection to those with dementia and other cognitive impairments. It is my hope that it will become the law here in Maine.

Unfortunately across the world, elder abuse needs to become a focus.

Jeter enraged and impassioned us all by ending her lecture with a story of residents with late stage dementia being “cared for” at a nursing facility, who could no longer speak and were sexually assaulted by a worker for more than six months.

Sadly, the sentence of the perpetrator was downgraded by the judge because it was viewed as a lesser crime because the women didn’t know what had happened to them.

This occurred not in the United States, but in a foreign country, but its outrageousness is still unfathomable.

Please, join Bridges Home Care, Spectrum Generations, Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging and thousands of others across this country and world Saturday, Elder Abuse Awareness Day, and bring this important and often unprosecuted crime to the public’s eye.

And if you are concerned that someone you know may be the victim of verbal, physical, or emotional abuse, neglect or misappropriation of funds, call Adult Protective Services reporting hotline at 1-800-624-8404.

That phone call may be the only hope that senior has left.

Kristin Overton is the Director of Bridges Home Care, a division of Spectrum Generations. From housekeeping to hygiene, Bridges Home Care provides the help needed to allow older and disabled adults the option to be independent and maintain their daily routines in the comfort of their own homes. Readers may send Kristin an email at [email protected]

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