Local professionals work to prevent elder abuse

In less than 20 years the number of baby boomers 65 and older will double. These seniors will need care. Unfortunately, some also will need protection from elder abuse. Various groups of professionals say prevention must be a top priority.

"When you're working with elders in different environments put yourself in their shoes," said Chris Barnett, director of social services at a nursing facility, St. Martins in the Pines.

He says the best way to care for seniors is to comprehend the challenges they face. "They don't function on a nine to five work day. You may be up at twelve at night. You may be dealing with situations at three in the morning. Being flexible is a big thing,"

In the U.S., the number of seniors abused, exploited or neglected each year stands at{} two million. Experts suspect that number may be much higher. Many cases of abuse go unreported. In fact, research indicates one in every ten seniors is abused at least once in their life.

It doesn't stop at physical abuse though. Many suffer from mental, emotional, even financial abuse. "Five percent of people over sixty are victims of senior financial abuse every year. So you can do the math in your church or community and sort of have an idea that it is widespread. It's an epidemic," said attorney Bill Nolan.

Nolan helps seniors protect and preserve their assets. He says sometimes the people expected to look out for a person's financial well being are the very ones taking advantage of that individual. "The largest perpetrator in terms of numbers of elder financial abuse is a family member. Unfortunately, sixty-something percent of the time it's a male family member between thirty-five and fifty," said Nolan.

Nolan says, while there are several laws to protect seniors from physical abuse very little has been done to do the same for financial abuse.

However, Alabama state Representative Paul DeMarco has plans to change that. "We looked at the current criminal code. Prosecutors said well here's some of the language we need to prosecute those who may exploit seniors when it comes to identity theft or fraud," said DeMarco.

DeMarco plans to introduce a bill that would create additional penalties for elder abuse and add new sections to the criminal code, providing new avenues for prosecution. "Unfortunately we've seen an increase in Alabama," said DeMarco.

Ultimately, Nolan says the best way to prevent elder abuse is for caretakers to take care of themselves. Often, feelings of stress lead to mistreatment. "Know what your limits are. And if you hit that wall and are frustrated, take that time out," said Barnett.

Some indications of abuse include bruises, signs of being restrained, or a caretaker's refusal to let you see your loved one.

And when it comes to financial abuse, be wary of new "best friends". And check for changes in bills and bank account statements.

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