LIMA — Cheryl Bechtol saw it happen to her own father. One day, he got a call from someone posing as his grandchild; they were asking for money.
Luckily, he checked with his family to find the truth and avoided the scam, but many aren’t so lucky. Financial scams, exploitation and abuse can have real impacts on the lives of seniors, and they can happen close to home.
For that reason, Adult Protective Services and a number of senior-centric organizations are celebrating World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on Saturday. Set for June 15, the international holiday gives local agencies an opportunity to highlight elder abuse and encourage seniors who may be victims of abuse to report any issues.
What is elder abuse?
While there are many different types of elder abuse, most cases fall under three umbrella terms: exploitation, neglect and abuse.
Exploitation is the most common case seen in the local area, said Area Agency on Aging 3’s vice president of living services, Allison Stehlik. Making up about half of all cases reported, exploitation deals primarily with financial scams or straight-up stealing, and it’s becoming more common as digital tools are more heavily adopted by the senior population. Such tools make it easier for scammers to get ahold of financial information, and they can also be used to convince a senior that the scammer is someone else, such as a common acquaintance or maybe a potential husband.
“I’ve seen romance scams where they fall victim online. They meet and develop a relationship. Then they feel kindhearted, and they send a person money,” Stehlik said. “Usually, seniors are more apt to be exploited. A lot of women — because they live longer and a lot are widowed — they’re a target.”
The second-most common case heard by the agency, Stehlik said, is what she would categorize as more typical abuse cases. Just like any other person, abuse can happen to seniors. Sometimes, they can be a target because of the public’s wider perception of seniors being easier to abuse.
On the lookout
Bechtol, who works as director of Mercy Health-Home Health in Lima, said her nursing staff will often be on a lookout for such cases. While bruises or other marks can be telling of physical abuse, her staff is also paying attention to potential cases of mental or emotional abuse. Such types of abuse can also take the form of neglect or a senior’s caregivers failing to provide basic necessities, such as delivering food or paying for utilities. If such issues are found, Bechtol will report the case.
“It’s our job to protect them, and we take it very seriously,” Bechtol said.
So too does Vicki Sunderland, the Lima Memorial Health System home health director.
“We go in for field care, and we see them in their home. A lot of times, when a patient is in a facility, you’re not seeing them in their true environment. You get a clearer picture in their home,” Sunderland said.
Such health care workers are required to report cases, but cases can also be reported by the general public. Those who may suspect elder abuse can contact the county’s Adult Protective Services department at 419-999-2051.
The group is officially tasked with investigating crimes concerning elder abuse. The county-wide department sees roughly 38 complaints per month on average.
“People are always asking: ‘What’s the success rate in hunting down financial scammers?’ It’s zero if you don’t refer it,” said Jake Larger, APS administrator.
It is estimated by the National Center on Elder Abuse that for every investigated case of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation, five more incidents aren’t reported.
While not all reports forwarded to APS fall under the purview of the department, Larger said they can still act as the networking agent for seniors in need of other available public services.
“Sometimes, we just get them in contact,” Larger said. “We’re happy to serve as that hub even if we aren’t the one providing the service.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.