Elder Abuse Awareness Deserves Attention

By: Jared Cerullo Email
By: Jared Cerullo Email

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

An invisible problem plagues many of our senior citizens and that problem is abuse. Some national studies indicate as many as 15% of all senior citizens in America are abused either financially or sexually.

It's a sad statistic, and what makes it even worse is that much of the time, the abuse comes from within the family. Fortunately, there is a growing trend to combat the abuse on a national scale.

"Lavish restaurants, trips to Texas, trips to Arkansas," Gene Littlejohn said as he described some of the things a family member bought with his step-mother's trust fund.

Littlejohn has seen it firsthand. The family member, he says, coerced his elder step-mother and aunt to sign over their trust funds to him. The abuse that happened to his aunts took a toll on his entire family.

"It's been extremely frustrating," Littlejohn said. "It has taken a wear on myself and my sisters. It was at the point where I was stressed out so much that I had to go to a medical doctor."

locally, it's estimated that 6,500 seniors in Sedgwick County are victimized every year. But only 400 of those are reported. That's why the problem is call 'invisible.' Nationally, only about 5% of all elder abuse cases are reported to authorities.

"65% of the abuse that happens occurs by a family member," said Don Strong of the Mid-Kansas Senior Outreach Center. "The stereotype was that it occurs in nursing homes. That's only a minority. The majority of it occurs in the home by a family member, usually an adult child."

In Littlejohn's case, it took years of persistence even to get the authorities to pay attention to his claims. By the time he could get the pilfering to stop, more than $500,000 had been stolen from each of his aunts.

"It made me extremely sick physically," Littlejohn said, "but I just kept going because I'm an old war horse and I'm not going to let him get away with it and I'm still trying to do something about it."

"Probably one of the most significant issues is the idea that the person is afraid that they're going to lose their independence," explained Strong, the senior outreach coordinator. "They don't want to report it because usually it's a child and they don't want their adult child to go to prison."

With the baby boomer population now over 60, Strong says America has the most senior citizens it has ever seen.

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