With Baby Boomers retiring in record numbers, DuPage County officials are calling attention to the risk of increased incidents of elder abuse.
“Everyone has the right to a safe and secure life,” DuPage County Board member Bob Larsen told 250 people at the College of DuPage. “We can provide a lot of leadership.”
Larsen, the board’s Human Services Committee chairman, helped organized the symposium, Keeping Vulnerable Adults Safe, because of the nation’s changing demographics and the increase in cases of elder abuse reported to DuPage County’s Department of Human Services.
Fiscal year 2013 had 467 abuse cases and halfway through 2014, the number of reported cases is already at 297.
Larsen noted that a particularly tragic aspect of the abuse is that the abusers are often family members, saying sometimes the abusers are the caregivers themselves.
The exact cause of the increase is unclear, although a 2013 change in Illinois law mandating the same protective services for disabled adults between the ages of 18 and 59 is considered by most to be a factor. Of the 297 reported cases of abuse this year, 37 of them involve alleged abuse against the disabled.
Andrew Love, of DuPage Community Services, defined the various types of abuse as including physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, confinement, and even sexual abuse.
Love stressed the perception of abuse as only taking place in substandard nursing homes is one that is completely mistaken.
“These things are happening to seniors not only in nursing homes, but also in their own homes,” he said.
And although Love stressed that people shouldn’t hesitate reporting suspected cases of abuse, he also cautioned that the investigation may reveal the victim unwilling to cooperate.
“The abused must be willing to accept services,” he said.
Financial exploitation of the elderly makes up the majority of DuPage cases. DuPage County Board member Don Puchalski serves as the DuPage Public Guardian, handling 70 case of elderly or disabled residents unable to manage their affairs, but lacking anyone to serve as their guardian.
One questioner asked him about recovering assets from people who had exploited aging parents financially.
“I would prepare a citation of recovery of assets,” Puchalski said.
But he also pointed out that if the parent’s money is completely gone, the action probably wouldn’t do much to help the victim.
One person who can take legal action against financial exploitation of seniors is Diane Michalak, of the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Michalak said that penalties for financial exploitation range anywhere from two to 16 years in prison, depending on the amount of money lost by the victim.
She noted that financial exploitation cases typically take longer to work out than other criminal cases, because they usually involve bank records being subpoenaed.
Once the records are obtained, it sometimes becomes an easy case to prosecute.
The second highest number of reported abuse incidents involves passive neglect, and Michalak noted the difficulty of dealing with neglect legally.
“We have trouble with the concept of neglect as a criminal act,” she said.
Michalak said that a caregiver might be actually guilty of what many would consider neglect, such as leaving an elderly person alone and vulnerable to disasters like home fires.
“But fires don’t normally happen,” she said. “Unless there is harm … no crime.”
Pamela Digioia, representing the DuPage County Health Department, gave the audience a list of warning signs that adults were being abused. They include unexplained bruises, untreated health care needs, not allowing visitors or the person to leave home, personal items and financial assets being transferred without the person knowing about it, and when someone in a position of trust appears to be using the money for their personal needs.
Like the rest of the speakers, Digioia urged people to report cases they felt were suspicious, but she also stressed the rights of the elderly and disabled.
“They have a right to refuse services,” she said. “Even medication.”
Wheaton resident Peggy Radke works with Family Shelter Service.
“This issue is very important to us,” she said about elder abuse.
Mary Keating, director of DuPage County Public Services, was grateful for the big turnout and said she hoped to make it an annual event.
She stressed that being proactive was the most important message to take away from the symposium.Tags: DuPage County, elder abuse