Those who work in the social safety net that serves older adults are familiar with the statistics when it comes to elder abuse.
- A 2011 study estimated that 260,000 older adults in New York State are victimized each year.
- The state Office of Child and Family Services released a study in 2016 which estimated that financial exploitation of older state residents costs a total of $1.5 billion a year, while another study pegged national losses at $36.5 billion.
- Only one in about 22 cases of elder abuse is reported, for various reasons.
"I think one of the major ones is that, typically, about nine out of 10 perpetrators are family members," said Katie Earl, a social worker in the elder abuse prevention unit of the Center for Elder Law & Justice in Buffalo.
Those who reach out for help do so because they want to know their options, Earl said. "They want the abuse to stop. We're happy to help them with whatever way that looks."
The center, along with Erie County Senior Services, will host an Elder Law Day from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday in Adam's Mark Hotel, 120 Church St. Those who attend are welcome to a free lunch and, if space is available, a 15-minute consultation with a legal advisor, though registration is required by calling 858-6864 or emailing erie.gov/eld. Information about Medicaid long-term care, nursing home rights, elder abuse, veteran's benefits, LGBTQ issues and health care reform will be available to all who attend.
Q: What are the signs of elder abuse?
One of the major signs is isolation, when people stop going to events or places where they used to go, maybe their faith communities or senior centers. That's why our Council on Elder Abuse came up with the Caring Cards Challenge. We reached out to people of all ages to write friendly notes and draw picture for cards that are going out to people on Friday who receive Meals on Wheels in various locations in Erie County.
Other signs include when people seem anxious or agitated by family members or others hanging around; when there are abrupt changes in spending patterns or people don't know about their finances; when they're not seeing their money, don't know how much they have or where it's going. Also when there are suspicious changes in legal documents like powers of attorney or wills, or deeds to property. Another sign is suspicious bruising, burns, cuts or other wounds.
Q: If somebody is looking for help, what's the best way to reach out?
If they're looking for civil or legal services, they can contact us at 853-3087. If they're looking for information on services and supportive programs in the community, that would be Erie County Senior Services or New York Connects at 858-8526. If they have concerns about somebody in an abusive situation and want to make a report, anyone can contact Adult Protective Services at 858-6877. Crisis Services has an elder abuse case manager. Someone can call their hotline at 834-3131.
Q: How does the Elder Law center handle cases?
For elder abuse, we typically handle 200 to 230 cases a year. We always have to talk to the older adult in the situation, to see if they want assistance and if they have the mental capacity to accept it.
I'm happy to talk to anyone about what's going on, to see if there's anything we can do. I get a feel for what they're looking for, what legal issues that they have. Then we talk with the attorney and see how we can help the person achieve justice. Our services are free.