By DREW HOWARD
The Rochester Hills Public Library hosted a workshop Tuesday night aimed at equipping residents with the necessary tools and resources to fight elder abuse. Gillian H. Bentley, an independent living specialist with the Disability Network of Oakland & Macomb, led workshop participants through an hourlong discussion on different categories of elder abuse and their respective associated warning signs.
Bentley began by explaining that the phrase “elder abuse” has many interpretations. “In Michigan, abuse is defined as intentionally causing harm or serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult,” Bentley said. “We often hear it called elder abuse. In Michigan it’s kind of interesting, because it’s technically vulnerable adult abuse, meaning anyone over the age of 18 who relies on somebody else to meet their daily needs.”
Bentley noted that many states have a different definition for elder abuse, making it difficult to prosecute individuals who prey on the elderly over the internet and across state lines. According to national statistics presented by Bentley, approximately 10 percent (or five million) elderly and disabled persons ages 60 and up are abused each year.
Bentley added that of those abused ages 60 and up, 42.8 percent were 80 years or older. “There is a correlation between reported cases of abuse and age,” she said. “So as our age goes up, the reported cases go up as well. As we get older, maybe we aren’t driving anymore, and relying on people a little more to get us to grocery store, shower, things like that.”
Because many elderly individuals have no choice but to rely on other people, Bentley encouraged folks to be more cautious in who they share their private information and valuables with. She noted that those living in Oakland County should be especially wary of door-to-door “sales people” offering free home estimates.
“Oakland County is one of the worst counties in the entire state for home improvement scams,” she said. “In most cases those are not legitimate operations.” “While you’re out front showing them the gutters they have someone trying out your windows and doors in the back of house so they know how to come back later. At the very least maybe now they know you live alone, and that you maybe have extra money to spare because you’re interested in the kitchen remodel.”
Elder abuse comes in many different forms, including physical abuse, psychological and emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and neglect. Depression, withdrawal and sudden changes in behavior are a few of the common warning signs found across such categories.
Bentley pointed to a national statistic showing that 84 percent of abuse cases end up going unreported, which could be due in part to a victim’s fear of embarrassment, feelings of shame, or even love for their abuser. Cases can also go unreported if a victim’s mental impairment causes them to be viewed as untrustworthy, Bentley said.
“Individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia are much more likely to be sexually assaulted,” she said. “The perpetrator feels the individual won’t be believed because they have memory issues.”
Bentley listed a number of trusted professionals that people can consult in the instance of elderly abuse, including the local police, family physician, the social security office, and healthcare workers.
Those who are affected or know someone affected by elderly abuse are urged to call Adult Protective Services at 855-444-3911.