It’s a sobering fact – more than 33,000 Maine seniors are abused each year. That covers everything from physical abuse to financial exploitation.
As hard as it is to hear, most of that abuse is committed by family members.
The National Center on Elder Abuse puts the number at 90 percent.
Maine is working harder than ever to help raise awareness about elder abuse – and to put a stop to it.
“When you have a loved one who suddenly that may be the only family member you have – that a senior has – and suddenly you realize this person is stealing from me, this person is harming me. It’s just the emotions I think can be overwhelming.”
Jill Randall is a lawyer with Legal Services for the Elderly.
The Augusta-based organization offers free help for needy seniors.
She says these days, that help also covers elder abuse cases.
“Physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, also financial exploitation. And what we see is rarely do those forms of abuse occur alone. Usually there are multiple forms of abuse happening at the same time.”
It’s estimated more than 30, 000 Maine seniors will be abused in one way or another.
But The National Center on Elder Abuse says only 1 in 14 of those cases will be reported.
Kennebec and Somerset Counties District Attorney Maeghan Maloney says, “They’re cases where people are horrifically hurt and it’s a segment of our population that we all hope to join someday and we want be well cared for.”
Maloney is working to prosecute more elder abuse cases.
Her office now has a dedicated attorney to oversee them.
But before a case can potentially come to court, it needs to be spotted.
Randall says seniors are more vunerable to abuse after major medical issues or the loss of a spouse.
“Those are times when we often see some new person enters the senior’s life. That could be a long lost family member, could be a new friend who gets involved with that senior’s life and slowly may take control of the senior’s finances, their property, and really isolates the senior.”
Warning signs of abuse include – sudden changes in a senior’s appearance, a rapid decline in health, changes in banking and credit card activity, and changes in legal documents, like a will or power of attorney.
“One common scenario that we’ve seen also is family members move in with the senior sometimes with the promise that they’ll provide some homecare or help with household chores and sometimes those family members can become abusive.”
Randall says the more people speak up about elder abuse, the more of a difference it can make.
“Elder abuse is a community problem and it’s something we need to work together as a community to solve. It may be that the seniors being abused physically, emotionally, sexually. There may be neglect happening, a theft of medications so by reaching out, they’re raising awareness, but they also may be saving that senior’s life.”
If you or someone you know suspects elder abuse, you should contact Adult Protective Services – any time – at 1-800-624-8404.
You can also get in touch with Legal Services for the Elderly.
That number is 1-800-750-5353.
We have that information on our website, too.
In Part 2 of Elder Abuse in Maine, we’ll meet a woman who fought hard for her elderly cousin when she found out she was the victim of financial abuse. The perpetrator was sent to federal prison.
And see how the expanded effort in Central Maine to prosecute more elder abuse cases is already bringing justice.