Lincoln, Neb. — Governor Pete Ricketts on Friday visited with team members at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), as he and the agency observed World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The Adult Protective Service (APS) teammates with whom the Governor met work daily to prevent and reduce harm to vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which occurs every year on June 15th, is a universal day of opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted upon the elderly.
“Elderly Nebraskans are some of our state’s most vulnerable people, and we work to ensure they are empowered to enjoy a great quality of life,” said Governor Ricketts. “Older adults across the State of Nebraska are vulnerable and more likely to fall victim to abuse, neglect, abandonment, and financial exploitation. The State of Nebraska is committed to their protection through prevention, investigation of reports of exploitation, abuse, and neglect, and by connecting the elderly to the services that will help them maintain the dignity they deserve.”
This year, the Governor’s Office and DHHS are encouraging organizations to educate and collaborate with local communities about ways to prevent and reduce occurrences of elder abuse. DHHS team members worked with The Office of Capitol Commission to illuminate Nebraska’s Capitol Building in purple lights in acknowledgement of the day. The color purple and purple ribbons have long served as the primary symbols for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
In 2017, the Nebraska Abuse and Neglect Hotline received 14,158 calls related to APS. Of those, 2,650 met the criteria for investigation/assessment, and 351 (14 percent) of those investigated cases were substantiated. 151 perpetrators were subsequently placed on the APS Central Registry.
The perpetrators may not always be who we might imagine. Sometimes, older adults fall victim to targeting by scammers. Unfortunately, however, more often it is a caregiver, family member or other trusted individual who engages in the intentional or negligent acts that cause harm. In fact, according to the National Council on Aging, approximately 60 percent of elder abuse occurs at the hands of a family member.
“Many older adults suffer in silence due to fear of retribution, lack of care, embarrassment, or fear of being forced to leave their residence. This fear and shame is amplified when a trusted caregiver or family member is the perpetrator and, ultimately, this means many cases of elder abuse go undetected. That doesn’t have to be the case,” said Dr. Courtney Phillips, CEO of DHHS. “With that said, while decorating your town or workplace with purple ribbons, or even wearing one in a demonstration of solidarity, is a great way to show support, it’s imperative that Nebraskans familiarize themselves with what puts an elder at risk, learn to recognize signs of abuse and neglect, and report suspected instances so that we can better protect this vulnerable population.”
Factors that make an elder susceptible to abuse include social isolation, physical disability, frailty, and mental impairment (such as dementia or Alzheimer’s).
Some key signs of abuse and/or neglect include:
• Unusual weight loss, malnutrition or dehydration;
• Untreated physical problems, such as bed sores;
• Unsanitary living conditions such as dirt, bugs, soiled bedding and clothes, poor hygiene;
• Unsuitable clothing for weather; and
• Desertion at a public place.
Signs of financial exploitation include:
• Sudden changes in back accounts or banking practices;
• Additional names on an older person’s bank cards or checking accounts;
• Abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents;
• Disappearance of funds, possessions or medications;
• Unpaid bills or substandard care despite the availability of funds; and
• The sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives.
To combat elder abuse and raise awareness, teammates at DHHS offer training to professionals statewide regarding elder abuse and neglect. On average, the training sessions are attended by more than 300 people from an assortment of professions, including members of the aging network, bankers, healthcare workers, and attorneys. The department also recommends communities maintain and improve resources, such as public transportation and senior centers to prevent social isolation.
If you suspect someone you know and/or love has been the victim of elder abuse, call the Adult Protective Services Hotline at 1-800-652-1999. If there is immediate danger, call 911 or local law enforcement.