Health

Campaign to Prevent Elder Abuse Underway

An 81-year-old man is sitting on a bench at a transit center when he’s approached by a man who screams at him and then hits him on the head and causes a one-inch gash.

A 79-year-old man was convinced by his daughter to let one of her friends deposit a check in his account and withdraw the money. The check bounced and he was responsible for both the amount of the check and the bank fees, leaving him with no money for living expenses.

A 73-year-old mother was kicked in her back and hit on the head with a copper pot by her son, who yelled at her about being old and told her she was going to die.

Unfortunately, all three of those examples are real-life and happened to older adults in San Diego County. In all three cases, the San Diego County District Attorney’s office was able to convict the perpetrators.

June is Elder and Dependent Abuse Awareness Month and San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency’s Aging & Independence Services (AIS) is taking part in a statewide “Know Abuse, Report Abuse” campaign to bring awareness to the issue.

“It’s sometimes hard for people to spot elder and dependent adult abuse because many times the victim is embarrassed or fearful and won’t speak up about what’s going on,” said Ellen Schmeding, AIS director. “Sometimes when it’s a family member doing the abusing, victims feel the need to protect their loved ones from the legal consequences of the abuse rather than report it.”

Elder and dependent adult abuse takes many forms. Physical, mental, sexual, and financial abuse, as well as neglect and self-neglect are recognized in state law as forms of elder and dependent adult abuse. Reports for all types of elder and dependent adult abuse are on the rise. In San Diego County, reports have increased by around 125 percent since 1999.

However, many incidents of abuse go unreported leaving older adults and dependent adults in potentially life-threatening situations. In San Diego County, an estimated 53,200 cases of abuse go unreported each year. That’s on top of the average 10,125 cases that get investigated yearly.

There are a number of indicators that may point to abuse, including:

  • Lack of adequate food, water and other amenities
  • Dirty clothing and changes in personal hygiene
  • Bruises, black eyes, broken bones
  • Bloody, ripped or stained clothing or soiled sheets
  • Harassment, coercion, intimidation, humiliation
  • Unexplained purchases by the primary caregiver

“As a community we need to recognize when our older adults and those over 18 who are vulnerable, become victims of abuse and then report it to AIS,” said Schmeding. “For for those in long-term care facilities, report it to the Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s office.”

If a situation appears to be life-threatening or a crime is in progress, call 9-1-1. If you believe abuse has occurred, AIS’ Adult Protective Services has a 24-hour hotline, 1-800-510-2020, for reporting abuse of older adults and disabled adults who may be physically or financially abused, neglected, or exploited. To report suspected abuse of an elder in a nursing home, residential care facility for the elderly, or assisted living facility, contact the Ombudsman Program at 1-800-640-4661 or local law enforcement.

Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact