As people live longer, elder abuse continues to become a difficult and challenging social issue. Vicci Hilty, the Executive Director of Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, spoke about the growing problem at the Lynnwood Chamber of Commerce’s morning meeting Thursday at Fairwinds-Brighton Court Retirement Community in Lynnwood
Hilty told a personal story about her grandmother, who had suffered elder abuse in a second marriage.
After her grandfather died, her grandmother married a man who decided to move to North Carolina, far from Hilty’s grandmother’s family and friends in Texas, the only state she’d ever known.
Despite being an astute businesswoman her grandmother was too ashamed to talk about the abuse to her family. Eventually, she showed up on Hilty’s doorstep bruised and bandaged, after escaping.
“’I was so embarrassed, I felt foolish,’” Hilty recalled her grandmother saying and why she hadn’t contacted her family sooner. “’I got taken. Your grandfather would be disappointed.”
Hilty said older people may seek companionship out of loneliness even when the relationships aren’t healthy.
The median age of elder abuse victims is 77.9 years, according to 2014 statistics from the National Center on Elder Abuse, Bureau of Justice. There are over 2 million elder abuse cases every year, and 9.5 percent of the elderly population (age 60 and older) experiences some type of abuse.
Neglect makes up 58.3 percent of all elder abuse cases, followed by physical abuse at 15.7 percent, financial exploitation at 12.3 percent, and emotional abuse at 7.3 percent. Nearly two-thirds of all elder abuse cases are perpetrated by adult children or spouses.
Sometimes elders who get frustrated because of dementia and other maladies can become abusive themselves, said Karla Potter of Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County.
Most of the calls to the hotline here that involve elder abuse are reports of physical abuse, often reported by a caregiver, said Potter, who is a member of the Vulnerable Adult Abuse Task Force in Snohomish County.
If it’s a spouse that’s being abusive, the elder may not have the money and support network to move out at their age, Potter said. Senior housing can be too expensive for many and older people often don’t want to go to a shelter.
Nursing homes also have trouble keeping up the appropriate level of care as 91 percent of nursing homes lack adequate staff to properly care for patients, according to the Center on Elder Abuse. Elder abuse laws have been violated by 36 percent of nursing homes.
If you suspect an elder is being abused, please call Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County at 425-252-2873 (425-25-ABUSE), the state’s Adult Protective Services hotline 1-866-363-4276 (1-866-END HARM) or your local police department.
DVS of Snohomish County can help with legal referrals as well.
— Story and photo by Tony Dondero