June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and it’s an opportunity to talk about this issue which unfortunately is quite pervasive. Jane Walsh, the Director of Community Protection with the Boulder County District Attorney Office, is honoring members of the community who help combat elder abuse at an event in at the East Boulder Senior Center on June 15th.
Walsh says that elder abuse is any kind of mistreatment that detrimentally affects the health and well-being of our senior population. “The senior population is growing and awareness of elder abuse is growing too. Over the past few years it’s really come to the fore. Estimates range but we can say that one in ten elder Americans will experience one type of abuse in any given year so it’s really a huge problem and it’s kind of coming out of the closet.”
Walsh’s office often deals with financial abuse of elders which range from online or phone scams to theft by family members or carers. “It can cover a whole wide range of situations. Financial abuse at the hands of a stranger is really common. We see millions of dollars even going out from Boulder County every year from seniors who have been taken in and taken advantage of by people who have often contacted them over the phone or via the internet. Yesterday I had a report of an 86 year old wiring $134,000 to somebody that he’s never going to get back.”
Walsh says that often the abuser is close to the victim, either as a care-giver or family member, which can create problems for law enforcement in prosecuting the crime. “The senior may have a close relationship or may be dependent on the other individual so there’s a whole web of factors really that need to be sorted out to decide what to do with that type of situation, whether or not criminal proceedings are appropriate.”
Aside from financial abuse, many elders experience physical and mental abuse and neglect. This is often at the hands of a family member or care-giver which complicates the situation.
“One of the most common cases that we see is an adult child who may have substance abuse or mental health issues, who is not in full time employment, and is either back living with their parent or who has maybe never moved out. And so often a situation where the senior could cope with it 20 years ago, but now as their child is middle-aged with the same issues that they’ve always had, but they’re perhaps getting a little bit more frail, finding it more difficult to deal with. We see a lot of those situations, I think this week we’ve had 3 for instance, so it’s very prevalent, and they’re very difficult because there’s a lot of co-dependency involved there, and it’s very difficult and frightening for seniors in those situations to make a report to the police.”
The office of community protection has a lot of resources for people who are concerned about elder abuse. Their phone number is 303-441-3700.