Elder Abuse: A Community Concern

Tonight on your way home from work, drive through your neighborhood and take notice of who lives there.

How many of your neighbors are over the age of 60?  How many of your family members are over the age of 60?  Chances are that you could name a handful of people who are age 60 and over.  With the demographic changes occurring as a result of aging baby boomers, seniors are more prevalent in our society than ever before.  

This influx comes with an increased need for many services, including Older Adult Protective Services.  Many people in the community do not realize that York County has a team of dedicated care managers who are committed to serving the at-risk population for adults aged 60 and over.  This department receives on average over 100 reports a month with concerns ranging from self-neglect to abandonment of a care-dependent individual.  All of these reports are exclusively managed by the York County Area Agency on Aging, which also partners with other entities to try to ensure the best possible outcomes for the older adult being assisted.

In York County, the top three types of elder abuse that are reported include self-neglect, care-taker neglect, and physical abuse. These reports can originate from a private home, a nursing home, an assisted living facility, or the hospital. The goal for aging care managers is to try to immediately address whatever concern is causing the older adult to be at imminent risk. Often times, these problems are first addressed with education and community-based supports if possible. It is always the goal of protective services staff to implement the least restrictive measure first. While many stay silent because they are fearful of being removed from their home, this is simply not true.  The need for placement does arise, but only in very severe cases.

In cases where crimes against the elderly have been committed, the York County Area Agency on Aging works with the York County Elder Abuse Task Force. This task force was set up to establish a working relationship with other agencies in the community, to ensure that the best outcomes occur for victims of elder abuse. Members of this task force include the District Attorney’s Office, solicitors, banking security professionals, staff from ACCESS York, and Protective Services Staff.  Collaboration among these groups has been imperative to moving criminal cases forward, ensuring perpetrators are held responsible for their actions.

One of the most pressing questions often asked in regards to the conversation about Elder Abuse is, “What can I do?”  The most important thing that a community member can do is to keep eyes and ears open. When you notice that your friend appears to be having changes in memory, and a once-spotless appearance has deteriorated, it may be time to start asking questions.  If you hear someone talking about changes to their finances, or of no longer having money to purchase medications or pay utilities, it could be time to start asking questions.  Sometimes the problems are more obvious, like bruising or other physical injuries.  Regardless, elder abuse is largely under reported due to many reasons. Many times, victims are dependent on their abuser for care or for financial reasons. 

Elder abuse is a community problem, and everyone in the community can be part of the solution. It is important to remember that there is something everyone can do to help address this.  The first step is being aware; the second step is reporting concerns. Anyone can contact the York County Area Agency on Aging at 717-771-9610. We are available to take concerns twenty-four hours a day, all year long.  It is important to remember that you do not have to be right about the abuse occurring, just that you have a concern that warrants investigating.  We would much rather investigate a concern and realize that the situation is fine, versus finding an older adult at imminent risk.

If you have questions or concerns, please call the Aging office at 717-771-9610 or 1-800-632-9073.

By: Jennifer Weitkamp, York Area Agency on Aging, Protective Services Supervisor II