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Adult abuse too often ignored

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By April Wright, Reporter

Each year, elders and incapacitated adults are victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation by caretakers and others.

Signified by a purple ribbon, May is recognized as Adult Abuse Prevention Month, and social services departments in Galax, Carroll and Grayson get out information to make the public aware of the overwhelming statistics and what can be done to prevent abuse.

Byron Fowler, a social worker at the Galax Department of Social Services, said he has posted information on church bulletins and provided information to the staff of local nursing homes.

In 2007, local departments of social services throughout Virginia investigated more than 13,500 reports, 7,615 were substantiated, and of those reports, 4,237 were in need of and willing to accept services.

“When we go in to investigate, most are receptive to our services and some refuse. We try to do what we can to enhance their lives, but [if they’re competent and not at risk to others] we can’t make them change,” said Fowler, referring to reports of elderly people living in cluttered homes.

However, Fowler said if the person is living in unsafe conditions, the department will seek assistance from building officials to investigate environmental issues or electrical hazards.

“Sometimes all they need is to have their trash cleaned up,” said Fowler. “Others just choose to live that way.”

Fowler said he receives as many as two to three reports a day. Last year, the department investigated 38 cases, and in the first three months of 2008, the number is already up to 15.

After having 52 reports of abuse last year, the social services department in Grayson County has already seen 21 reports in the first three months of this year.

Although a statistic wasn’t available at the social services department in Carroll County, social worker Jeanie Quesenberry said the “numbers generally increase each year because the population is living longer.”

Fowler and Jenny Hall, senior social worker at the Department of Social Services in Grayson County, agree that most reported abuse is the result of self-neglect. In fact, 54 percent of Adult Protective Services (APS) reports in Virginia are due to self-neglect.

“Some just aren’t as independent as they were in the past,” said Fowler.

Some adults, Fowler said, are at risk of harm because they are unable to provide for their own basic needs and have no one to assist them. While some elderly or disabled adults remain independent, others may find themselves unable to care for or protect themselves and their affairs.

Next in line, Hall said, is financial exploitation.

“I would say about 60 percent of the cases are on self-neglect, 30 percent on financial exploitation and about 10 percent on abuse such as physical and sexual.”

APS investigates abuse, neglect or exploitation cases and seeks help for adults 18 years or older who are physically or mentally impaired or to persons age 60 or older.

APS can arrange assistance for the victim through counseling, emergency assistance, adult day care, social support, medical and personal care and legal and financial assistance. These services, provided through the Department of Social Services regardless of financial resources, can stop and prevent further mistreatment.

“The community works well together,” said Fowler. “We have to look at what services we can provide to benefit people.”

In fact, the local social services departments work with organizations and departments such as the Department of Health, Rooftop of Virginia, churches, medical resources and Meals on Wheels.

Persons who report suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation are protected from civil or criminal liability if the report is made in good faith. The identity of the person making the report is not made available to the public.

Mandated reporters include health professionals, persons employed by a public or private agency or facility and who work with adults, persons who provide full-time or part-time care to adults for pay on a regularly scheduled basis, social workers, mental health professionals and law enforcement officials.

Some signs of adult abuse, neglect and exploitation:

• Burns, welts, scratches, bruises and cuts

• Fractures, dislocations and sprains

• Mistrust of others

• Unsanitary or unsafe housing

• Inappropriate or inadequate clothing

• Malnourishment

• Lacks needed supervision

• Untreated medical condition

• Properties or savings are being mismanaged

• Sudden change of will or power of attorney

• Unpaid bills

To report suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation of older or disabled adults, call the hotline at 1-888-832-3858, or your local Department

of Social Services:

Galax — 236-8111

Carroll — 730-3130

Grayson — 236-9924