When Carol Adams, a 47-year-old Albany woman was indicted by a grand jury in April on a manslaughter charge for starving her 78-year-old mother, Beth Adams, people reacted with shock.
In fact, there are up to 1.8 million abused seniors in the United States each year, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse. Only one in 14 domestic elder abuse incidents come to the attention of authorities.
“It’s certainly a topic that isn’t often discussed,” said Lisa Smith, director of the Sexual Assault and Crime Victims Assistance Program for Rensselaer County based at Samaritan Hospital. “It’s one of society’s ugly secrets.”
In an effort to help call attention to the problem, The Eddy has recently started The Eddy Haven for Abused Elderly — a first-of-its-kind initiative in the region and only the third such program in the nation to target the prevention and intervention of elder abuse.
The Eddy Haven for Abused Elderly will serve individuals generally 60 years of age or older who reside in Albany and Rensselaer counties. The program will offer a variety of comprehensive, coordinated community resources designed to care for and advocate for victims of elder abuse who need to leave their homes.
Services may include a short-term safe residence at an undisclosed location, nursing and home care, counseling and legal advocacy, case management and referral to other support services.
“Elder abuse may be one of society’s best-kept secrets, but the facts suggest that it has become a serious problem in our country, especially as baby boomers age,” said Jo-Ann Costantino, chief executive officer of The Eddy, a not-for-profit network of services for seniors, based in Troy.
“Every year, hundreds of thousands of frail, older adults are abused, neglected or exploited by family members and others who are supposed to care for them. This program will help protect vulnerable seniors who cannot help themselves, and who have had to depend on others to meet their most basic needs.”
Elder abuse describes the intentional physical, emotional or financial mistreatment or neglect of a vulnerable senior and can include:
— Physical abuse: Inflicting or threatening to inflict, physical pain or injury on a vulnerable elder, or depriving them of a basic need.
— Sexual abuse: The infliction of nonconsensual sexual contact of any kind.
— Emotional or psychological abuse: The infliction of mental or emotional anguish or distress on an elder person through verbal or non-verbal acts.
— Financial or material exploitation: The illegal taking, misuse or concealment of funds, property or assets of a vulnerable elder.
— Neglect: The refusal or failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care or protection for a vulnerable elder.
— Abandonment: The desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
Many elders who are being abused are afraid to tell anyone, said Smith.
“We are talking about a generation that doesn’t easily talk about these issues,” she said. “They are usually very proud of the work they have done, their lives and their families. This is the generation that fought in World War II.”
Added to the problem, is the fact that the victim often assumes they are somehow to blame, added Costantino.
“One thing we find with elders is that many of the people who are doing the abuse are also their support systems. So their concern is ‘If this is reported, will my son, my daughter, whoever who is doing the abuse, no longer be here? Then what am I going to do,’ ” she said.
Smith said studies show that the abuser is often a close family member.
“Oftentimes, the elder feels responsible or guilty because they raised this child who is abusing them or taking advantage of them,” Smith explained. “They don’t want to call the police on their own children or other family member.”
Just as victims of domestic abuse often believe their abuser when he or she tells them it will never happen again, so do seniors.
“They believe their abuser will never do it again — so why report them,” said Costantino.
The Eddy Haven program will work closely with law enforcement officials and offer special training sessions to officers who are often the first to spot and respond to abusive situations. The network also plans to reach out to area health care professionals, those who care for seniors, and seniors themselves to increase awareness of the issue.
Some signs and symptoms of elder abuse may include unexplained physical injury, agitation, trembling and confusion, emotional distress, withdrawal or showing no emotions, social and physically isolated, unexplained loss of financial independence, home in disarray, lacking basic necessities, elder appears fearful of caregiver and others.
Smith said it is not easy for elders to admit they have been a victim of a crime.
“A lot of seniors come to us and talk about financial abuse,” she said. “But then we know that where there is one abuse, there is usually more. So it takes a little exploration, but if people are ready to talk about it, then we are there to help them.”
Costantino said the goal of the program is to break the cycle of abuse, to provide a safe place where the person will no longer feel threatened, and to get appropriate services for the individual.
Following their stay, clients either return home, if safe, with community support services or transfer to another living situation.
“We want to have them in a place where they will have a better quality of life for whatever remaining period of time they have left,” said Costantino.
For general information about The Eddy Haven for Abused Elderly call, 271-5072 or call the 24-hour hotl ine, 271-3257.
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