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Elder abuse continues to be problem

Originally published: Apr. 18, 2013
Last modified: Apr. 18, 2013

Adam Orr

The Ashe County Board of Commissioners learned of 84 reported cases of abuse, neglect or exploitation among the county’s elderly presentation in 2012, during a Monday presentation by Ashe County Department of Social Service’s Linda Thompson.

“Our goal is to educate about just how many people are not reporting their suffering because they are ashamed they are being abused by their own family members,” said Thompson. “And they are ashamed they have to come forward and say they are being abused.”

Ashe seniors are not alone in their suffering, according to Thompson. State figures indicated more than 1,900 reported incidents of abuse, neglect or exploitation in 2011.

Elderly women are also more likely to be abused or neglected, according to Thompson, making up 62 percent of reported cases each year.

“Those women that are 80 years old or older comprise the majority of the reports of (those) that live in their own home,” said Thompson. “More than one-in-10 will experience some kind of abuse or neglect, and the majority of those are unreported.”

And a society that is growing older and more infirm each year could lead to more cases of neglect, abuse and exploitation, according to Thompson.

“There are two things that are happening that are making the situation for adults more critical,” said Thompson. “Baby boomers are increasingly (getting older) — between 2010 and 2030 we’re going to have many, many (older) baby boomers.”

Nationally, Thompson said more than 20 percent of the country, or 72 million, will be comprised of older Americans by 2030, with the vast majority of that increase in people older than 85 years old.

“Another factor affecting us all is the number of people with cognitive impairments,” said Thompson. “The forms of dementia will also grow in the coming decades. Right now there are 5.3 million Americans of all ages with these diseases.”

More than 7.7 million people are projected to suffer with Alzheimer’s disease by 2020, according to Thompson, with the number projected to grow to more than 16 million by 2050.

Each year, DSS also fields complaints that include charges of self-neglect, according to a 2012 interview with Ashe DSS Adult Services Supervisor Tommy McClure.

“It’s typically a disabled or elderly person that is living alone, or in a place with no primary caregiver,” said McClure. “Many times these folks are not taking their medicines or eating properly, and they’re being negligent about things like doctor’s appointments.”

McClure said elderly persons, due to their physical and mental capacity, who are unable to perform for themselves essential services, or obtain essential services, and if that person is without someone who is willing, able and responsible, they can be classified as needing protective services.

Above all, according to Thompson, her agency is tasked with educating seniors and their families about the potential for elder abuse, neglect and exploitation and how to stop it.

Between Mother’s Day each May and Father’s Day in June, Ashe County DSS sets up displays on the first floor of the Ashe County Courthouse with pamphlets and information on the types of abuse that befall the elderly ways to report and prevent them.

“That is why we feel that what we provide through the Elder Abuse Prevention Team is so important,” said Thompson. “The major focus of our team is not only to collaborate with other teams in the community — to provide extra help in getting ideas and brainstorming how we can help these people at risk - but we are also here to educate the community.”

Commissioners approved Thompson’s request to continue that educational display in the lobby of the Ashe County Courthouse this summer.
For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.