By Wendy Holdren
The Raleigh County Department of Health and Human Services observed World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Friday, hoping to raise awareness about this devastating problem that is sometimes swept under the rug.
Social Service Supervisor Clarence Mizell and Raleigh County Circuit Judge John Hutchison joined the residents at the Raleigh County Commission on Aging to discuss the problem, how to be aware of it, and how to help combat abuse.
“Sometimes you’re in abuse or neglect situations and you don’t even know about it,” Mizell said.
He referenced actor Mickey Rooney’s issues with elder abuse and how his finances were abused by a member of his family.
Mizell said that abuse can come in many forms, such as emotional, psychological or sexual.
“You need to be aware of what abuse is and make it known to somebody.”
In many instances — nearly 65 percent of reported cases — family members are the ones responsible for the abuse or neglect.
He also said that neglect is defined as not having your basic needs met, especially if an elder is being deprived of medical assistance or being malnourished.
Some of the symptoms he named included broken bones, bed sores, dehydration, poor hygiene, malnutrition and emotional or behavioral changes.
Hutchison then took the podium to discuss at what age one is considered a senior.
By AARP standards, one is considered elderly at age 50, but the U.S. Census categorizes seniors ages 65 and up.
Hutchison said 60 is the standard age that is recognized by the National Center for Elder Abuse.
“Because we are elders, we are accused of a lot of things, such as memory loss.”
He gave the crowd a short-term memory test, naming the words “action, activism and vigilance,” and then later asked them to recall the words. Many of them were able to do so.
Many stereotypes are given to elders, Hutchison said, including forgetful, senile, fragile, grumpy or disabled. He says because of the stereotypes, many people dismiss elder claims of abuse, which causes elders to stop reporting abuse.
“The truth about elder abuse is that we deserve honor and respect, not abuse and neglect. People don’t like to talk about this shameful secret, but it’s a crime and in general, it’s going unpunished.”
He said elders are the fastest growing group of people in the nation and home care is the third fastest growing job.
Reports of elder abuse have increased by 150 percent, Hutchison said, and he hopes it’s because people are speaking out about the problem, not that abuse is on the rise.
He referenced an article in Friday’s Register-Herald which reported that two men broke into an 86-year-old woman’s house, tied her up and stole her prescription pain medication and jewelry.
“I urge you to get involved and take action. Actively promote elder abuse awareness.”
Anyone who has questions or fears they may be a victim of abuse or neglect, call 911 or call the Department of Health and Human Resources at 1-800-352-6513. Suspected abuse in a nursing home or long-term care facility can be reported at 1-800-834-0598.
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