BEAUFORT — There have been 345 reports of elder abuse filed with the Carteret County Department of Social Services since the beginning of 2020.
That’s why DSS adult protective services supervisor James Chiavola said it’s important to be aware of the problem as May 9-June 20 is observed as World Elder Abuse Awareness Month. The dates were picked because of Mother’s Day falling on May 9 and Father’s Day observed Sunday, June 20.
In addition, Tuesday, June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
“Elder abuse is rampant, yet is a severely under-reported social ill, affecting an estimated one in six persons aged 60 and older around the globe,” Mr. Chiavola said during the May 10 County Consolidated Human Services Board meeting. “With our aging population, elder abuse is a growing problem.”
Elder abuse refers to intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or trusted individual that causes harm to an older person. The abuse can come in many forms, including physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, neglect or financial.
While there have always been incidents of elder mistreatment, Mr. Chiavola said he’s worried there were more unreported occurrences due to lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Measures intended to curb the spread of the virus had the potential of adversely affecting the physical and mental health of older persons,” he said. “Policies adopted by care homes to safeguard their residents from infection precluded them from receiving visitors, which often contributed to loneliness, depression and anxiety. Even where older persons were isolating at home with their families, they may have faced increased abuse and neglect fueled by tension, stress and uncertainty resulting from job or income loss.”
Mr. Chiavola said the month is a good time to bring awareness to the growing problem and be willing to step in if a suspected incident is occurring.
“We all have a shared responsibility to ensure that older persons feel safe, included and significant in our communities and to protect them from harm,” he said. “I would like to encourage all individuals to recommit to ending all forms of prejudice, neglect and discrimination experienced by our senior citizens.”
DSS suggests these five things to help prevent elder abuse:
- Listen to older people and caregivers to understand their challenges and provide support.
- Educate one another about the signs of abuse and how to get help.
- Report suspected abuse or neglect as soon as possible.
- Build a community that fosters social connections and supports older individuals and caregivers.
- Reach out to professional services for support where available.
It’s important to know the signs of elder abuse. Physical signs of possible abuse include:
- Broken bones, bruises and welts.
- Cuts, sores or burns.
- Torn, stained or bloody underclothing.
- Sexually transmitted diseases without clear explanation.
- Unsanitary living conditions and poor hygiene.
- Unusual weight loss or dehydration.
- Unattended medical needs.
Emotional/behavioral signs of elder abuse can include:
- Unusual changes in behavior or sleep.
- Fear or anxiety.
- Isolation from friends and family.
- Withdrawal from normal activities.
Financial signs of abuse can include:
- Unusual changes in a bank account or money management services.
- Unusual or sudden changes in a will or other financial documents.
- Fraudulent signatures on financial documents.
- Unpaid bills.
Those suspecting elder abuse, neglect or exploitation should contact DSS at 252-728-3181 or the County Sheriff’s Office at 252-728-8400.
Those suspecting abuse or neglect in long-term care facilities should contact the Eastern Carolina Council at 800-824-4648.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.