Raising awareness of elder abuse

MPR file photo/Elizabeth Stawicki

Police, prosecutors and even bank employees are paying more attention to the signs of elder abuse in Clay County  after a training initiative sponsored by an elder abuse education initiative.

The project started about three years ago, funded by a $290,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.  The goal as reported in this story,  was to educate professionals about the growing financial and physical abuse of elders.  The abuse of senior citizens is often at the hands of family members or trusted caregivers.

Data from the DOJ and advocacy groups suggest more than 1 million people 65 and older are victims of physical or psychological abuse, sexual assault and  financial exploitation. Nationwide, it’s estimated as few as one in 14 cases are  reported.

Because of the three-year education and training initiative, there now are more cases of elder abuse reported according to Clay County Social Services Supervisor Pat Boyer.  Police now commonly look for signs of abuse when they have contact with seniors, and Boyer said banks have reported suspicions of financial abuse, something unheard of a few years ago.

There’s no data to support the anecdotal evidence of an increasing number of cases.  It’s hard to track elder abuse cases according to Lori Conroy with the Clay County Attorney’s office, because cases cover a broad range of crimes from domestic abuse to financial fraud.  But Conroy believes more cases are being referred to her office because professionals are trained to recognize vulnerable elderly victims.

The second annual elder abuse summit in Moorhead, June 26th, aims to continue educating professionals and the public to recognize the signs of elder abuse.

The  federal grant for the training program runs out this October, but Boyer said a community response team will continue meeting regularly to share information among prosecutors, police and advocates for the elderly.  Clay County will also pursue funding to retain an elder abuse advocate who was hired with grant funds.

The elder abuse initiative will soon expand in the Fargo-Moorhead area according to Boyer.  North Dakota’s Cass County, which includes the city of Fargo,  just received a three-year grant for the same elder abuse awareness initiative that’s been successful in Moorhead and Clay County.

More information about elder abuse is available from the National Center on Elder Abuse.