Reported cases of elder abuse increase in Merced

Abuse of senior citizens can happen in ways not obvious to observers, including mental abuse, neglect, sexual abuse or financial victimization, according to Merced County officials who gathered Tuesday to point out warning signs.

“A lot of people think of marks or bruises, but there is so much more than that,” Alexandra Pierce, deputy director of adult and aging services, told the group at the Merced Senior Center.

Merced Mayor Stan Thurston said his uncle and aunt were supposed to be taking care of his grandmother, but instead they stole her life savings.

“There is nothing sadder or more despicable than finding out that an older person has been abused by a child, children or other relatives that are in charge of, hopefully, taking care of them,” Thurston said.

The gathering came as part of June’s recognition as Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Awareness Month. Wednesday marks the 10th year of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

In Merced County, there were more than 600 reported cases of elders being abused last year, Pierce said. Each year, for the past three years, there has been a 20 percent increase in elderly abuse reports, according to Pierce.

“We want to make sure help gets out,” she said.

For every one incident reported, it’s believed that four more go unreported, although Pierce told the Sun-Star that is a conservative number.

“It’s very difficult for a senior to turn in a son or daughter,” Thurston said. “That’s their only support. If that goes away, they have no support whatsoever.”

Merced County District Attorney Larry D. Morse II said most of the abusive conduct described are felonies under state law and the lack of reporting them is the biggest problem.

“We have to remove the stigma of shame or reluctance,” Morse said.

Morse said there have been many cases of elders not being provided basic services, whether that is at their private home or senior living homes. Elders wouldn’t be provided with basic human needs, such as hygiene or receiving the medical attention they need, he said.

“We want them to not feel there are no options for them,” Morse said. “If they reach out, we will get them the help that they need.”

The executive director of Healthy House, Candice Adam-Medefind, urged residents to not miss the warning signs of abuse. Caregiver isolation, intimidation, a cluttered or filthy living environment, new credit cards or increased cash withdrawals, unexplained sexually transmitted diseases, and changes in behavior are some possible signs.

For some elders of other cultures, there is a taboo when it comes to asking for help or reaching out to law enforcement, Adam-Medefind said. Healthy House provides help in 13 languages. Many of its programs, one being the Late in Life Abuse Program, reaches out to Southeast Asian elders who have suffered abuse.

“It’s important to connect seniors with as much services as possible,” Pierce said.

On Thursday, Healthy House will have an open house to talk to the community about warning signs of elder abuse. The event at 301 W. 18th St., Suite 101, will have Spanish translators available.

“It’s such a big issue and it’s so underreported,” Adam-Medefind said.

To report suspected abuse, call Adult Protective Services at 209-385-3105 or the Merced County ombudsman at 209-385-7402.