June brings awareness to elder abuse

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

COVINGTON -- Elder abuse and neglect is often overlooked and underreported, so state and local officials are aiming to draw attention to this epidemic during June, declared Elder Abuse Awareness Month by Gov. Nathan Deal.

"Elder abuse is one of the most unrecognized and under-reported crimes with devastating and life-threatening consequences," said James Bulot, director of the Department of Human Services Division of Aging Services. "Reporting is the best mechanism we have in place to protect our state's most vulnerable citizens."

Freda Reed, activities director for Newton County Senior Services, said staff and volunteers there are required to report any suspected instances of abuse, though she said it's been years since such a problem has occurred. Still, it's a subject that is brought up often with clients.

"We talk to our clients about this every month, about being aware and what to look for, the signs of elder abuse. Even if it's not them it could be one of their friends," Reed said.

While signs of physical abuse may be obvious, signs of emotional and mental abuse can be more difficult to recognize, Reed said. Unusual or sudden tendency to isolate is a sign that shouldn't be ignored, she said.

DHS Division on Aging offers the following as a checklist of warning signs:

* Physical abuse: Slap marks, unexplained bruises, pressure marks, certain types of burns or blisters, such as cigarette burns.

* Neglect -- Pressure ulcers, filth, lack of medical care, malnutrition or dehydration.

* Emotional abuse -- Withdrawal from normal activities, unexplained change in alertness, other unusual behavioral changes.

* Sexual abuse -- Bruises around the breasts or genital area and unexplained sexually transmitted diseases.

* Financial abuse/exploitation -- Sudden change in finances and accounts, altered wills and trusts, unusual bank withdrawals, checks written as "loans" or "gifts" and loss of property.

Suspected abuse can reported to the DHS hotline at 866-552-4464 or by calling local law enforcement.

The Better Business Bureau Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens and Northeast Georgia is also making Georgians aware of another kind of elder abuse: Scams and financial fraud. BBB reports receiving hundreds of phone calls each year from seniors targeted or victimized by scammers. These crimes are usually carried out by someone the victim knows, such as family members, caregivers or friends. Often, victims may not immediately recognize they have been scammed and once they do, may be too embarrassed to report it.

In addition to unusual bank activity and missing belongings or property, other signs that someone has been victimized include:

* Complaints from seniors that they cannot afford normal purchases.

* Suspicious stories about people that normally wouldn't be involved in personal affairs now being involved.

* Unnecessary purchases, often big-ticket items.

* Sudden changes to Power of Attorney or will.

* Sudden interest in an investment or business opportunity.

* Claims they have won a prize, lottery or vacation.

* Numerous unpaid bills or bounced checks.

The BBB recommends calling local law enforcement to report suspected scams.