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Elder Abuse is “Silent Epidemic”

It is a news story that often receives immediate attention, but is then quickly forgotten by most. Elder abuse and neglect is known as the “silent epidemic” because it often goes unreported by those who are affected.

Locally, the Coalition of Organizations Protecting Elders (COPE), a community-based team of organizations in Lucas County, Ohio, works to address this devastating issue of abuse, exploitation, neglect, and self-neglect.

“We know that only 15-20% of elder abuse cases are ever reported,” said Sandy Hamilton, former Long Term Care Ombudsman at Advocates for Basic Legal Equality and COPE Co-chairman.  “That means that for every one elderly resident saved from abuse, five more continue to suffer.”

That suffering can take many forms, from physical and emotional abuse to neglect to sexual abuse to financial exploitation.

According to a U.S. Department of Justice study, one in nine older Americans age 60 and over experiences abuse over one year, and many experienced it in several forms.

“Not only is abuse devastating to victims, their risk of death is 300 times greater than those who have not been abused,” said Sandy.

Complicating the issue is a rapidly growing elderly population and the pervasive nature of elder abuse and neglect.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “between 2012 and 2050, the United States will experience considerable growth in its older population. In 2050, the population aged 65 and over is projected to be 83.7 million, almost double its estimated population of 43.1 million in 2012.  The number of people in the oldest age group, which refers to those aged 85 and over, is projected to grow from 5.9 million in 2012 to 8.9 million in 2030.”

“There is no one socioeconomic class that suffers more from elder abuse, exploitation, neglect, and self-neglect,” explained Cheryl J. Conley, MA, LSW, Program Director, Alzheimer’s Association and COPE Co Chairman. “It crosses all racial and ethnic groups and all economic statuses.”

Victims of elder abuse often do not report abuse for numerous reasons. They may fear retaliation, be afraid of the abuser, hesitate to get the abuser in trouble, fear losing their independence, or, if they are suffering from cognitive issues or dementia, they may be unable to understand or describe their circumstances.

To help alleviate the growing problem of elder abuse and neglect COPE brings together many disciplines that work closely with the elderly to learn, discuss, strategize, and assist their clients in preventing or stopping abuse

“We meet monthly with representatives of over 30 organizations and one of the agencies usually reviews their services so that COPE members are knowledgeable about more community resources,” said Cheryl.

“We also hold an Interdisciplinary team meeting following the monthly meeting to discuss complex cases in which team members guide one another or offer to help the senior who is experiencing physical, mental, or financial abuse, neglect, or self-neglect.”

If there is an elder abuse or neglect instance that requires immediate attention, COPE sends a “C-gram” email to all members requesting guidance and assistance.

“We want our community to know that not only is COPE advocating for the health and safety of our elderly citizens, but also the awareness of the devastating impact of elder abuse,” said Cheryl.

For more information on the work of COPE or to schedule a presentation on elder abuse, contact COPE Co-chairman  Cheryl J. Conley, MA, LSW, Program Director, Alzheimer’s Association, Northwest Ohio Chapter at (419) 537-1999, (800) 272-3900 or at cheryl.conley@alz.org.

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