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Fighting Senior Abuse in North Florida

Area Agency on Aging

America is getting older.  One result is that elder abuse is on the rise.  Tom Flanigan reports the Area Agency on Aging for North Florida is among those sounding the alarm.

The agency’s Elder Abuse Coordinator Anna Simmons says this is one of those tragedies that – to a large degree - lurks in the shadows.

“Some nationally-recognized experts estimate that for every  one report, there are fourteen incidents that never come to the  attention of authorities.  We don’t think about it.  We don’t think  about adults hurting adults.  We focus more on adults hurting  kids, but the sad reality is senior citizens get hurt, too.”

Program Specialist Sara Rode says that reality is behind the present push to boost awareness.

“And that’s part of what the Area Agency’s Elder Abuse Prevention Program does.  We go out and educate the community: professionals, para-professionals, seniors and the general population, on the definitions of abuse, neglect and exploitation; what it looks like, what they see with their neighbors, if that might be a red flag for something.  And then of course getting the Abuse Hotline Number out there so people know, when they do suspect abuse, neglect or exploitation where to report it and the number to call is the 1-800-96-ABUSE.”

But Rode says too many reports just aren’t made for whatever reason. 

“A lot of times people don’t want to get the alleged abuser in trouble and it’s a matter of educating seniors themselves about what their rights are.  No one has the right to treat an elder poorly, whether it’s physically abusing them, screaming, emotional abuse, yelling or even stealing from them a Social Security check.  They don’t have to take it.”

Sometimes it’s a service provider who notices something amiss.

“We work in fourteen counties in North Florida and we have case management agencies in each of those counties that are actually providing the direct services in clients’ homes, such as the homemaking and personal care.  And those direct service workers and those case managers are most definitely the first eyes that we have to identify any type of abuse that’s going on.”

But elder abuse is more often detected by a neighbor, friend or relative of the victim.

“And if you do suspect that abuse, neglect or exploitation with a friend or a family member, or it’s happening against yourself, we really encourage you to call 1-800-96-ABUSE to report that incident.  Or if you’re not feeling comfortable and you’d like more information about abuse, neglect and exploitation, you can call the Area Agency on Aging, the Elder Hotline, at 1-800-96-ELDER.”

And there’s another similarity between child abuse and elder abuse in Florida.  Suspecting that either one is going on and failing to report that, is also a crime.