Dozens of elder abuse cases occur in Crawford County each year

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By Correne Martin

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is Monday, June 15, a day to recognize that neglect, self neglect, emotional and physical abuse and financial exploitation of those 60 and older does happen—even in the rural communities of Crawford County.

“I think the general public feels that if they don’t see it, it must not be happening,” said Bob Rowe, a social worker, since 1995, with Crawford County Human Services’ adult protective services. “I think, in a rural environment, people tend to think their neighbors are doing well and that people are too kind to mistreat others. I would generally agree with that. But there is a segment of our population that’s not doing well.”

According to the Administration on Aging, about 11 percent of elders in the United States experienced some form of abuse or potential neglect in the past year. An estimated 5 million, or one in 10, older Americans are victims each year. Research suggests that elder abuse is significantly under-identified and under-reported, and that as few as one in 14 cases of elder abuse come to the attention of authorities.

In Crawford County, which has a population of 16,000 people, 3,000 of those are 65 or older and, Rowe believes, for every elder abuse case that is reported, about five or six are likely not reported. Rowe said the U.S. Baby Boomer population will only increase the number of elders in the next 20 years to a point where there will be more elders than ever before. And, of course, elderly are living longer, “which is good but doesn’t necessarily mean they’re living quality lives, and that makes them more vulnerable.”

In 2012, there were 57 reports of elder abuse in Crawford County, including 27 self-neglect cases, 10 financial exploitation, five neglect, four emotional abuse, and two physical abuse. In 2013, there were 30 cases reported and, in 2014, 39 cases—most of which were self-neglect.

Elder abuse can occur anywhere: in a person’s own home; in nursing homes and assisted living facilities; or in hospitals. Some common risk factors include dementia, mental health or substance abuse issues, social isolation and poor physical health.

Rowe said, many times, the abuse is carried out by a family member or friend of the elder and that can make the situation all the more emotionally wrenching.

“Some seniors really do become unable to make decisions for themselves. They are not eating well, not taking their medications, isolated with few family or friends within a close distance, and they get depressed which leads to physical problems,” Rowe stated. “It’s amazing how they get used to a lifestyle of inadequate physical inactivity and deterioration. Some become curmudgeons and just push people away. Many times, they become hoarders, obsessed with pets that they’re not able to take care of, and almost oblivious to their problems. The majority are low income. But they’re assertive, strong-willed people too.”

Rowe added that elders are often easy victims of schemes where they think they’ve won the Australian lottery, for example, because they were raised to trust others. He said he’s witnessed cases where seniors have lost thousands of dollars in pursuing scams they believed were true.

Many victims are reluctant to report abuse because they may feel ashamed and embarrassed, particularly if a family member is the abuser and they don’t want him or her to get in trouble. Victims also worry that they will be forced to live in a nursing home (and sometimes this happens). Some feel guilty or somehow to blame for the abuse and sometimes they’re afraid that, if they report it, the abuse will worsen. Some are even unable to speak out due to dementia or other impairments, or they may not be believed when they do.

To address the problem of elder abuse and prevent it, Rowe suggests that neighbors keep their eyes on the elderly, take note of what might be happening, ask questions and listen.

“If they see something that’s not right, it’s OK to report it and to hopefully make people aware of the issue. The police are very helpful with these situations as well,” Rowe said. “If I get a report and the person is 60 years and older, we would always have a face-to-face visit. Anybody age 18 to 59 who has a physical or developmental disability and is being abused, we can look into that too.

For more information or to report potential elder abuse, call the Crawford County Human Services Department at 326-0248, or 326-0241 in an emergency. You may also visit the National Center on Elder Abuse at or call (855) 500-3537 for additional information.

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