Coaldale Crime Watch raises awareness on elder abuse
Kimberly Noel of Schuylkill Elder Abuse Prevention Alliance discusses elder abuse with members of the Coaldale Community Crime Watch. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS
As more and more of Pennsylvania’s population becomes elderly, the agencies who serve seniors are seeing an increase in cases of elder abuse.
Coaldale Crime Watch recently heard from an elder advocate about the types and causes of elder abuse.
Kimberly Noel of Schuylkill Elder Abuse Prevention Alliance spoke about her agency’s work to raise awareness about the issue, and provide assistance for victims.
The alliance is dedicated to promoting awareness of elder abuse, providing education, and helping prosecute people who commit crimes against the elderly.
“We always appreciate the opportunity to bring awareness to this subject because unfortunately we hear about it too much. We want to see the criminals that perpetrate the crimes be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Noel said.
Type of abuse
Noel said there are many different forms of abuse including physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and sexual abuse.
Some signs of abuse can be obvious, like bruises, weight loss or a disheveled appearance.
Victims of abuse can also show changes in personality, signs of emotional trauma, and feelings of being agitated, violent or withdrawn.
In all types of abuse, the victims can be ashamed to report abuse, or they’re afraid that the abuser will get in trouble.
“If you think someone is being abused, please talk with them when you’re alone, and tell them you’re concerned something might be going on,” Noel said.
That is often the case when an elder is the victim of financial abuse. Noel talked about several forms of financial abuse.
Financial abuse includes any case where someone improperly uses a senior’s money or assets. It can be committed by a stranger, like a scam caller, but more likely by someone close to the victim.
Reluctancy to report
Sometimes elders will be reluctant to report an abuser because they are afraid they will be isolated from other family members as a result.
Noel said some of the most heartbreaking cases are ones where the abuser threatens isolation as a way to financially victimize an elder.
“It’s really a fine line, and it’s very sad too, a lot of times because they’re kind of stuck then and feel threatened,” she said.
Noel said she has seen other cases where seniors who were victimized didn’t think they were because they granted their abuser power of attorney.
Power of attorney is meant to be used when a senior becomes incapacitated. A person granted power of attorney has a legal obligation to act in the best interest of the person they’re representing.
It doesn’t mean that a person granted power of attorney can use their elder’s account to pay their own bills.
“It’s important to get it out there that power of attorney isn’t a license to take another person’s money,” she said.
Noel said it’s important for bankers to be able to realize situations where an elderly client is potentially being victimized by someone close to them.
Caregiver stress and abuse
Noel said caregiver stress can be a factor in elder abuse situations, and it can be prevented. When a caregiver has to make sacrifices to take care of a loved one, they can lose patience with the person they’re taking care of. That may lead to abusive words or actions which the caregiver normally wouldn’t use.
It’s a normal thing for caregivers to struggle.
The problem is more common with people who provide care for someone with dementia because they are more likely to have needs around the clock.
Noel said that anyone can help prevent caregiver stress by giving the caregiver a break.
“If you do know someone who’s a caregiver, please reach out to that person and say hey, can I sit with your loved one while you go get your hair done or nails, it goes so far just to give them a bit of a break and prevent that situation from happening,” she said.
Every county in Pennsylvania is served by an agency on aging or senior services office which investigates cases of elder abuse. People can submit tips anonymously and confidentially.
The Schuylkill County Office of Senior agency can be reached at 800-832-3313. The Carbon County Agency on Aging can be reached at 800-441-1315
Schuylkill Elder Abuse Prevention Alliance’s vision is to have every Schuylkill County recognize, condemn and strive to eliminate elder abuse.
They offer an annual award for individuals and businesses who work to prevent elder abuse.
For more information on the award, and SEAPA, visit www.schuylkillelderabuse.org.