LUMBERTON — Elder abuse in Robeson County is an under-reported and an under-recognized problem, according to a county Department of Social Services administrator.
“Many victims of elder abuse are afraid to disclose or report mistreatment because they are ashamed, embarrassed, fearful of retaliation and institutionalization,” said Catherine Baker, program manager for adult services. “The abusers can be women as well as men, and almost 60 percent of elder abuse and neglect incidents involve a family member is the perpetrator. Two-thirds of perpetrators are adult children and spouses.”
Department employees, wearing bright purple shirts, gathered Thursday in front of the county’s DSS office on N.C. 711 to bring attention to the need for people to be aware elder abuse in communities across the United States and around the world.
Elder Abuse Awareness Day is observed every June 15 in the United States, and The United Nations has designated that day as World Elder Abuse Day.
Elder abuse can come in several forms, including physical, financial and emotional. In Robeson County, reports of elder abuse and mistreatment to the local DSS have increased from 350 cases in 2012 to the more than 500 currently.
“Studies show that nearly half of elder adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease experience abuse or neglect,” Baker said.
There are seven Adult Protective Services social workers at DSS. They have confirmed 312 cases of mistreatment that involved abuse causing pain or injury, caretaker neglect, exploitation of the individual, exploitation of assets, self-neglect and other types of abuse. The ages of victims reported to DSS for being abused range from 18 to older than 85.
There are several indicators of elder abuse that people should be aware of, according to Baker, and include include physical, behavioral, caregiver and financial.
Physical indicators are injuries that have not been cared for properly; injuries where there is no consistent explanation for cause; pain from touching; cuts, puncture wounds, burns, bruises or welts; dehydration or malnutrition without an illness-related cause; poor body coloration, sunken eyes or cheeks; inappropriate administration of medication; soiled clothing or bedding. Also, frequent use of hospital or health care; a lack of necessities such as food, water, or utilities; and forced isolation could be signs of abuse.
Behavioral indicators of abuse are such things as fear, anxiety, anger, withdrawal and depression, Baker said. Non-responsiveness, resignation or ambivalence, contradictory statements or implausible stories, or a hesitation to talk openly, are other signs of abuse.
A caregiver who prevents an elder from speaking to or seeing others, exhibits anger, indifference or aggressive behavior toward an elder can signal abuse. Criminal behavior or family violence, a lack of affection toward an elder, conflicting accounts of incidents or talks of an elder as a burden, are other signs, Baker said.
Abuse also can be identified through changes in an elder’s financial condition. These changes can include a sudden change in a bank account or banking practice; an unexplained withdrawal of a lot of money by a person accompanying the elder; additional names being added to a bank signature card; an unapproved withdrawal of funds using an ATM card; sudden changes in a will or other financial documents; or the sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming their rights to a person’s affairs and possessions.
Baker said anyone wishing to report abuse, neglect, or mistreatment of an elder should call the Robeson County Department of Social Services at 910-671-3500 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. If it is after regular business hours calls should be made to the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office at 910-671-3100.
Callers can leave their contact information if they wish to learn the outcome of a case, or they can file their report anonymously.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.