The United Nations recognizes June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Elder abuse is a serious problem affecting the health and human rights of our growing elder population. Forms of abuse are financial exploitation, caregiver neglect, self-neglect, sexual abuse, emotional and/or mental abuse and physical abuse.
Nationally, the federal government has attempted to track maltreatment of seniors to understand the scope of the problem. In a November 27, 2018 interview with New England Center for Investigative Reporting, Alice Page, developer of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services stated, “The elder abuse data is not complete. It’s correct in terms of what is reported, but there are so many cases that aren’t reported. We’re way behind in elder abuse reporting than, for example, in child abuse reporting. It’s just a different system. There’s much more emphasis and resources that have been put into child protective services than there have been into elder abuse or abuse of adults.”
In Minnesota, county social services agencies like Minnesota Prairie County Alliance are one of the lead investigative agencies. In 2016, a total of 25,617 reports were made to the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center (MAARC) where counties were the lead investigative agency. Within these reports, there was a total of 38,258 allegations. One year later, 28,120 total reports were made with 43,001 allegations. On average, 29% of all reports were accepted for investigation in 2016 and 2017. (Source: MN DHS Data Warehouse, 2017.)
Here are a few headlines across Minnesota highlighting recent reports to all lead investigative agencies:
- "Minnesota dementia sufferer died after beating by care home staff, investigation finds"
- "Duluth nursing home cited for neglect after four nurses fail to perform CPR"
- "Gaylord, MN mayor denies charges that he financially exploited a vulnerable adult"
- "Man accused of stealing over $700,000 from mother"
- "Two brothers, both residents of Waseca, were charged May 1 with taking money from a vulnerable family member"
- "North Mankato man sentenced to stealing $338,000 from elderly relative"
- "Caregiver charged with neglect after disabled man dies"
What can be done to help? Two key approaches include education of professionals who encounter older people through their work, along with community involvement with elders. Lack of knowledge about state laws, challenges in identifying the subtle signs of elder abuse, concern about angering an abuser or about ruining the relationship with the older person along with the potential for court appearances, lack of cooperation from some elders and their families, other demands on time, and --specifically for physicians-- a lack of reimbursement, can all be barriers to reporting abuse. You can participate on a local level through community meetings such as multidisciplinary teams, attending trainings, and talking to your local adult protection staff to learn more about what you can do.
Many of our elderly neighbors are vulnerable to abuse and may be unable to defend themselves or seek help due to fear or infirmity. We can all do our part by reporting adult protection. This can be done by calling MAARC (Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center) at 1-844-880-1574 or at mn.gov/dhs/reportadultabuse