Elder Abuse: The Forgotten Problem

Staff Writer

O-N-E Reporter
Elder abuse is not commonly talked about. But just like child abuse, elder abuse is a problem that needs to be addressed.
There are several types of abuse, including neglect, financial/material exploitation, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse.
The Catawba County Department of Social Services has a department to deal with this growing issue.
The Adult Protective Services unit investigates referred cases of the elderly and/any disabled person 18 or over.
Department employees receive reports of suspected abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Then, five full-time employees decide whether or not the allegations warrant an investigation.
Commonly, there is a very blurred line on whether there will be an investigation. The department only intervenes when the adult lacks the capacity to make decisions.
They use a “screen in, screen-out” system. If the call is screened in, a full- blown investigation is initiated. If the call is screened out, the adult is referred to other services if they so choose.
In 2016, 81 adults were screened in and 171 adults screened out. Out of the 171 adults, 126 of the screened out were offered additional outreach.
Rodney Franklin, program manager, has worked for the department for 20 years now. He said he loves serving the elderly. Franklin said that working for adult protective services is not for everyone.
“It's not always pretty and clean,” he said. “You have to have a real passion for the elderly to do this job.”
Franklin said many times, the case workers must go into homes and facilities that aren't clean or where rules aren't being followed.
He said there are obvious signs such as bruising, malnourishment, bugs and/vermin. Other times, the signs aren't so obvious, like subtle changes in behavior.
The most common reports concern “self neglect” issues.
Warning signs such as poor self-hygiene, not taking prescribed medication, not getting medical treatment, and not paying bills are common.
Another sign is noticing a neglected lawn when its always been kept immaculate or going into a filthy house that use to be clean.
“Sometimes adults hide or cover up their problems, because they don't want to ask for help,” Franklin said. “They are fearful to be placed in a facility.”
For elderly with no family or no income, facility placement becomes a reality.
When adults aren't placed in facilities, it's easy for them to be overlooked.
Some adults are hesitant to report because they think they are meddling, or the person wants to be alone.
“Personally I think older individuals get forgotten more,” Franklin said. “The focus is more on children, but in the last ten years, adult abuse has become a more prevalent problem.”
Franklin believes that societal changes, such as a growing number of elderly and more cases of diagnosed mental illness are the reasons abuse is becoming more prevalent.
He said that there is a trend now for younger adults (forties and fifties) suffering from mental illness.
“They are as entitled as a 90 -year-old (for services),” Franklin said.
He encourages anyone to make a report if they have a gut feeling something is wrong.
Franklin said that it's important that adults come forward and tell the truth.
When a report is made, the more information given will better the service.
If you have questions or need to make a report,
contact Catawba County Adult Protective Services at (828) 695-5609