The Twin Ports Elder Abuse Awareness and Prevention Forum on Friday, June 14, at the Superior Public Library offered participants information, resources and options.
Every year, one in 10 older adults experiences some form of abuse, ranging from caregiver neglect and financial exploitation to physical harm, according to a major study by the New England Journal of Medicine. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. According to the National Research Council, only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are reported.
In Douglas and St. Louis counties, the most common reported senior abuses are financial exploitation and self-neglect. And those were the issues of focus at the forum.
One Superior woman who lives in an independent senior housing complex asked how she could help a neighbor who has stopped eating and taking care of himself. She has approached the manager and called police in to do a wellness check, but nothing was done.
Alex Graun, a social worker with Douglas County’s Adult Protective Services unit, said there’s a lot of behind-the scenes work going on in these type of cases.
“I know in our county, we do get police reports,” she said.
Although the police don’t call directly, they send any mental health or adult protection related reports to the unit for screening. Graun said they can offer the person help, but only to a certain extent.
“If he doesn’t want our services, there’s not much we can do for him,” she said.
Another woman has a friend whose only family, a nephew, is set to be released from prison soon. The nephew has already been trying to pressure his uncle for money. How, she asked, can you advocate for an older friend in this situation.
Options included becoming the friend’s power of attorney or having a third party -- a representative payee -- take over his finances. It helps take the responsibility off vulnerable adults and helps ease their burden a bit, said investigator Katie Prosnick with the St. Louis County Adult Protection Unit.
Denise Selden, outreach advocate with the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse (CASDA), suggested setting up a safety plan closer to the nephew’s release date. She also advised contacting the prison and asking them to limit calls from the nephew to his uncle.
Talk turned to financial scams, which often target the elderly.
“You shut one scam down and five more pop up,” said Alena Hull, a social worker with St. Louis County.
Criminals set snares through the phone, computer and mail. Luann Teige, deputy director of Senior Connections, said they even send unneeded medical equipment to seniors’ homes, billing the seniors and Medicare.
Experts encouraged everyone to be aware of the scams that are circulating and share that information with the seniors in their lives. Let them know it’s OK to hang up if they don’t recognize the voice on the line, don’t understand the phone call or feel something’s off they should hang up, Hull said.
How should you approach someone you’re concerned about? Give it a positive spin, said Desiree Gnerre with the Arrowhead Agency on Aging.
“All we can do is let them know how much we love them, and this is the reason why, only because I want you here as long as possible, and in a healthy way,” she said.
The senior may be embarrassed, but it’s important to reach out. Let them know it's a common occurrence, and it's not their fault.
“Instead of bringing up a certain situation, opening the door with 'I just want to make sure you’re safe,’” Hull said.
“And it’s having the conversation more than once,” Teige said. "Some of these are very difficult topics to talk about."
Linking seniors to local resources can also help.
“They need to feel empowered to do something,” said Jennifer Ellis, director of the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College gerontology program.
Most importantly she said, be there.
“Sometimes being with that person to listen is the first step,” Ellis said.
To report elder abuse, contact the Douglas County Department of Health and Human Services, 715-395-1304. After hours, call 911.
Senior Connections, 715-394-3611, provides support programs including meals on wheels, elder benefit services and specialized transportation for seniors age 60 and older.
Other local resources include CASDA, 715-392-3136, and Wisconsin’s elder abuse website, reportelderabusewi.org.