Ohio law recently expanded the number of individuals required to report suspicion of elder abuse, neglect or exploitation.
They visit only on special occasions or holidays. They don’t call very often in between working full time and transporting the kids to soccer practice and music lessons.
An 83-year-old woman has lived alone for 5 years. One of her two adult children visits once a week and calls to check on her each morning.
Though the two descriptions are similar, one of the women is more at risk to becoming a victim of elder abuse.
Stark County Probate Judge Dixie Park said isolation is the biggest factor that puts an elderly person at risk for abuse or financial exploitation. For at least eight years, Park has been raising awareness about elder abuse and encouraging local law enforcement and community leaders to protect the elderly.
At the end of September, Ohio law expanded the number of individuals required to report suspicion of elder abuse, neglect or exploitation. Some examples include pharmacists, dialysis technicians, firefighters, first responders, bank employees and financial planners.
“I’ve seen some really hideous things happening to elderly people,” Park said. “That’s one of the reasons I feel so strongly about raising awareness to elder abuse and people with disabilities.”
A growing issue
Since Park took office in 2004, she has seen the number of guardianship cases rise from nearly 1,200 in 2004 to more than 1,800 this year. Many cases are filed as a result of the elderly person being exploited.
Park recalled a case where a woman was taken advantage of by someone living with her who claimed to be doing construction on her home. Instead, he swindled her out of nearly $200,000.
Though Park does what she can to help, many times the damage has already been done by the time the case reaches her in probate court. To help educate others in the community, Park coordinated a seminar last month to discuss the importance of protecting the elderly and signs of abuse and financial exploitation.
“It’s a community issue, and that’s why we’ve been trying to raise awareness to it,” she said. “It continues to grow. There’s a high percentage that goes unreported. We need to keep track of one another and protect one another.”
Stark County Judge Frank Forchione said he has seen the number of elder abuse cases rise within the past four or five years, parallel to the opioid epidemic. It is common in cases involving elderly victims that a younger family member steals money, credit cards or jewelry to help fuel a drug habit.
Many of these cases go unreported because the victim feels ashamed or embarrassed they were duped, or because they are afraid to report it. Some fear being placed in a nursing home if the abuse is reported, or fear no one will be around to take care of them if they speak out.
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Ending elder abuse starts with being present