Authorities raise awareness of elder abuse

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In 2018, there were more than 30,128 reports of abuse, neglect or exploitation of vulnerable and older adults made to North Carolina’s 100 county departments of social services, according to officials.

In Wilson County, the number of reports accepted for investigation more than doubled in the past year, officials said.

Reports are made by doctors and other professionals as well as by family members and concerned citizens. Anyone who suspects that a vulnerable or older adult is in need of protection is required by North Carolina law to report this information to the department of social services in the county where the adult resides.

Saturday is recognized around the world as Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

“In Wilson County, the percentage of adult referrals is increasing at a higher percentage than referrals of children,” said Wilson County DSS Director Glenn Osborne. “Given the numbers of older adults in our community, we expect this trend to continue for some time.”

According to the N.C. Division of Aging and Adult Services, Wilson County is one of several North Carolina counties where the number of adults over age 65 has already exceeded the number of children under the age of 17. This trend is expected to continue and encompass all of North Carolina by 2025, officials said.

To help end elder abuse, it is important to be aware of the signs. While one sign alone does not necessarily indicate abuse, some tell-tale signs that there could be a problem are:

• Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment.

• Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.

• Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.

• Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.

• Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.

• Behavior such as belittling, threats and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.

• Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also signs.

Experts say that, most importantly, be alert. The suffering is often in silence. If you notice changes in a senior’s personality or behavior, you should start to question what is going on.

“If you need to report a concern of elder abuse or neglect to our office, please call 252-206-4000 and ask to speak with an APS intake social worker,” said Nikki Mears, Wilson County DSS’ adult intervention team leader. “After hours and on holidays, you can call 911, and they will contact our on-call staff. Remember, it is not your role to verify that abuse is occurring, only to alert others of your suspicions. “

For more information on elder abuse and what you should do if you are concerned that someone you know is being abused, visit What If I Suspect Abuse, Neglect, or Exploitation? at www.acl.gov.