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Combating elder abuse in a rapidly-aging U.S. population

An 80-year-old woman lives in a Charleston neighborhood. The elderly woman appears withdrawn, frail and as unkempt as her property. She has no visitors other than a paid caregiver or family member who drops by a few hours once or twice a week. Is the woman a victim of elder abuse?

That fictitious description includes "red flags" of mistreatment listed on the National Center on Elder Abuse website. Studies have indicated one in 10 Americans above age 60 have been victims of neglect or physical, emotional or financial abuse. The problem may worsen as baby boomers, a significant portion of the U.S. population, transition into their retirement years.

Many baby boomers have already passed age 65. Millions more are set to hit that milestone between now and 2030 at the rate of 10,000 new retirement-age individuals per day. Americans are also living longer, swelling the ranks of the oldest members of society.

Some older Americans will enjoy good health well into advanced age surrounded by caring loved ones. Many older individuals will lose a spouse and develop mental and physical health problems as they age. The elderly become dependent, and the people they depend upon easily can take advantage of them.

Initiatives like the Elder Justice Roadmap project set out to increase public awareness of elder abuse. The project's goal is rally community organizations, communities and individuals to recognize signs of neglect and abuse among older people and develop action plans to fight it.

Federal government agencies have thrown support behind the project. The Department of Justice offers elder abuse education for attorneys. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is working to compile elder mistreatment statistics to guide government policies.

West Virginia residents can report suspected elder abuse by contacting the Bureau for Children and Families in the state Department of Health and Human Resources. An attorney can help older abuse victims recover damages.

Source:  U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, "DOJ and HHS call for action to address abuse of older Americans" Jul. 09, 2014

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