Elderwatch of East Tennessee held an Elder Abuse Prevention Strategies conference in Alcoa earlier this week. Numerous organizations were represented in the audience; members from churches, senior care agencies, financial institutions and different divisions of law enforcement filled the conference room at the Airport Hilton. Paul Greenwood, San Diego District attorney and head of the Elder Abuse Prosecution Unit was the first speaker. Just the day before Paul was in front of legislators in Nashville, appealing for a simpler legal definition of what qualifies as elder abuse, and who qualifies as an elder or vulnerable adult. Local prosecutors at the conference agreed that the current state definitions are problematic when trying to take action against someone who has exploited an elder. Much of the discussion of elder abuse focuses on the ability to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of elder abuse, however there is more to address than simply the punishment of those who have exploit elders.
Elder abuse occurs in different ways, such as physical abuse, neglect, financial exploitation, and even psychological abuse. There are some startling statistics about elder abuse, such as one indicating that more than half of people over 85 years old have or will experience elder abuse in some form. How does this happen? More importantly, what can be done to prevent it? A telling anecdote came from D.A. Paul Greenfield, who said that he often asks family members of victims this question; “When did you last speak with your family member before they were abused?” Often times, elders go too long without hearing from anyone close to them. It is wonderful that there are so many agencies recognizing the tragedies of elder abuse, but it is not enough to only punish those responsible. This does little, if anything to repair a person once they have been harmed. Just as with health issues, prevention goes much further than trying to fix something once it has gone wrong. We all need to understand that as a person grows older, their needs increase. An aging person may become frail, ill, isolated, or cognitively impaired. Reach out to seniors close to you, watch your aging neighbors and keep up with them. These are vulnerable individuals and family, friends, and even neighbors can make things safer simply by being present in their lives.
Written by Dylan Adams