Guest column/Let’s keep our elderly safe

The Jefferson County Department of Job and Family Services works to protect the unprotected, and that includes the elderly members of our communities. June is recognized as Elder Abuse Prevention Month, and it is the perfect time to check on elderly friends or family members.

Older adults are vital, contributing members of our society, and their abuse or neglect diminishes all of us.

Elder abuse can be emotional or psychological abuse; people speaking to or treating elderly persons in ways that cause emotional pain or distress, including intimidation through yelling or threats, humiliation and ridicule; habitual blaming or scapegoating; and ignoring the elderly person. Sexual elder abuse is contact with an elderly person without the elder’s consent. Financial exploitation involves unauthorized use of an elderly person’s funds or property, either by a caregiver or an outside scam artist. An unscrupulous caregiver might misuse an elder’s personal checks, credit cards or accounts; steal cash, income checks or household goods; forge the elder’s signature; or engage in identity theft. Elders also will be notified of a “prize” they won, but told they must pay money before they can claim it, and hear requests from phony charities or those engaged in investment fraud.

The largest number of cases we receive are self-neglect.

A lot of times the persons involved live on fixed income and they do great. Then their health changes. They have trouble managing their money and their utility bills increase. Frequently, someone is not purchasing their medications or food. Our staff members are good at helping that person get back on their feet. Fear of not being able to live independently causes some victims to withhold information about their situation.

Most of our elderly do not live with or near their children. If they no longer drive, and if they live in places where public transportation is limited, their interactions with others also can be limited. Smaller communities no longer offer the network of clubs and activities that once kept senior citizens connected, because connections now are made and kept in different ways than through visiting.

Telephone conversations, e-mail and even Facebook have taken the place of face-to-face contact.

Our seniors have the right to be treated with dignity, respect and to feel safe and secure. Unfortunately many seniors find themselves victims of abuse and neglect, which is unacceptable. The sooner we know about a case of abuse and neglect, the sooner we can stop it. In order to keep up the fight against abuse and neglect, we need everyone to do his or her part. If you suspect a case of elder abuse, report it. Elder abuse prevention will keep thousands of seniors safe each year.

If you suspect elder abuse of individuals 60 or over, contact the Jefferson County Job and Family Services/Adult Protection Unit at (740) 282-0961.

(Ferron is director of the Jefferson County Department of Job and Family Services.)