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Senior citizens, officials discuss ageism, abuse at forum

Story time Friday at Amherst Senior Center did not yield many happily-ever-after tales.

Instead, more than 100 people gathered to hear stories of abuse to senior citizens and how the community can work toward preventing it.. The forum was held on the second World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse started last year.

In the first five months of 2007, the Erie County Department of Senior Services assigned 411 cases of elder abuse to its case managers, but officials said the problem is much larger. Sisters Hospital Social Work Manager Linda Ranahan, the event's emcee, said only one in five abuse cases is reported.

Joan Ratzel, a detective who oversees elder abuse cases for the Amherst Police Department, told one of the hour's only positive tales.

Ratzel told the story of a local woman whose son took more than $97,000 from her, physically abused her, threatened to put her in a nursing home and tried to sell her house.

Intervention from Adult Protective Services brought the woman temporary peace from the abuse of her son, Ratzel said.
But as the woman's 99th birthday approached, her son announced he was coming to visit her.

Aides secured an order of protection against the son and prepared to call the police if he visited.

"This worked because he never showed up," Ratzel said. "So sometimes it's a happy ending."

Deborah Waldrop, a social work professor at the University at Buffalo and a speaker at Friday's event, said elder abuse stems somewhat from a culture shaped by ageism, which is prejudice or discrimination based on age.

Waldrop said language like "old fogey" or "poor old thing" was akin to sexist language, and she also compared ageism to racism.

"We wouldn't expect that all black people are the same," she said. "All older people are not the same, either."
Kathleen Collins, a social case supervisor at Adult Protective Services, said signs of elder abuse include signs of physical harm, a lack of necessities at home, fearfulness or depression, and cluttered or unsanitary living conditions. The agency keeps the identity of those reporting abuse confidential unless a court orders a subpoena of record. Senior Services accepts anonymous reports.

To report elder abuse, call Adult Protection Services at 858-6877.


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