Elder abuse comes to Chatham’s forefront in May

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The numbers can sometimes be staggering.

According to the National Council on Aging, up to five million older adults in America are abused annually. However, the problem is often hidden, with just one in 24 cases of elder abuse being reported to authorities. From a financial perspective, the loss by victims of financial abuse is estimated to be at least $36.5 billion per year.

The U.S. Department of Justice and its Elder Justice Initiative defines elder abuse as “an intentional act or failure to act by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult.”

Elder abuse falls into five different categories — psychological abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, financial exploitation and caregiver neglect. The Elder Justice Initiative reports that at least 10% of adults aged 60 and older will experience some form of elder abuse in a year. Some older adults face more than one form of abuse, ultimately leading to a reduction in quality of life and independence.

Collectively, the Chatham County Department of Social Services, the Chatham County Council on Aging and the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office are among the organizations seeking to raise greater awareness about elder abuse in its different forms.

“It is imperative that we educate ourselves on the signs of abuse and neglect so that we can act accordingly,” COA Executive Director Ashlyn Martin said. “Older adults are a vulnerable, at-risk population, and many may be unable to speak out for themselves. We each have the responsibility of being an advocate and a voice for those in need. Unfortunately, abuse and neglect can also be a result of caregiver stress and burnout. If you know of a caregiver who is taking care of their loved one, we encourage you to reach out and lend a helping hand. Offering to run errands, assist with preparing a meal, or even offer to sit with the care recipient while the caregiver takes a much-needed break can go a long way in helping someone feel supported.”

During the month of May, Chatham County will observe the period between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day (May 8-June 19) as Vulnerable Adult and Elder Abuse and Exploitation Awareness Month. The Chatham County Board of Commissioners approved the action during its April 18 meeting.

Any signs of mistreatment of an older adult should be reported to the Chatham County Department of Social Services at 919-542-2759. Per North Carolina law, anyone with a reasonable suspicion that an adult is being abused, neglected or exploited must report their concerns to their local Social Services department.

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