Under reporting and lack of public discussion seem to be the biggest barriers to stopping elder abuse. Wednesday marked World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, and Vera House Project Coordinator Jenny Hicks says the issue is frequently ignored or avoided.
“ Elder abuse as an issue is about 30 years behind the issue of sexual and domestic violence where you heard about that in the 60's," Hicks said. "People are still not really talking about elder abuse. When you're talking with older adults, there is so much shame around the issue of abuse. Very often, it's done at the hands of their family members. They don't really want anything bad to happen to their family members, yet they do want the abuse to be stopping.”
Hicks says 95 percent of older adults live at home, where most of the abuse is taking place. She says this is much more difficult to detect because frequently victims are isolated at home with the abuser.
“The number one red flag I always talk about is isolation," Hicks said. "Very frequently something happens in that older person's life that they're needing some sort of help or support, and the caregiver comes and isolates that person from other family and friends. All of a sudden, if that person's isolated, the abuse is easier to happen behind closed doors. Certainly someone who is isolated would be at more at risk than someone who is not.”
Hicks adds that people with physical or mental impairments are also more vulnerable to abuse. She says behavior changes in both the caregiver and the elderly can be warning signs.
“Are they more jumpy, are they depressed, are they feeling worthless. What's happening with the behavior of that individual," Hicks said. "On the other hand, what is the behavior of the care provider? Are they answering all of the questions, are they overcompensating, are they really jumping in where they should not be, for example.”
Hicks says abuse takes many forms…from physical and sexual abuse to financial and emotional. The public can report abuse anonymously to Onondaga County Adult Protective Services. Vera House offers 24 Hour Crisis and Support Lines and one to one counseling services with specially trained advocates. More information at verahouse.org