Task force assembled in SW Virginia to combat elder abuse


According to the National Institutes of Health people 85 or older are the fastest growing segment of the population and that means more opportunity for elder abuse.

In fact, the National Center for Victims of Crime estimates 5 million people a year become a victim.

Thursday is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and News 5's Julie Newman went to southwest Virginia to learn more about a new task force formed to fight this growing problem.

"I was shocked at how many folks showed up this morning. I thought we were just going to be talking to law enforcement and some folks. We were talking to caregivers, nursing homes, health care facilities," said Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City.

This formidable group was put together by Wise County Commonwealth's Attorney Chuck Slemp. He says it's not just about prosecuting people committing crimes.

"But we also want to serve seniors and educate seniors. And make sure that they understand that there are tools at their disposal to to protect them from having their assets stolen right out from under them," said Slemp.

"We see cases in which the grandson will take Grandma into the bank, have it motorized, and then go immediately to the next window and empty accounts."

And one group most likely to be targeted, may not even know they are being victimized. The federal government reports roughly half of people with dementia are abused or neglected.

Here's how the abuse breaks down: 1.6 percent of older adults report physical mistreatment.

Jennifer Lilly runs the Department of Social Services for Wise County, including adult protective services and she gave some of the signs to look for.

"If it's physical abuse then there could be possibly marks, bruising, things like that. They could be staying in the home more, they could not be wanting to come out," she said.

But being ripped off is a much bigger problem; 5.2 percent of older adults report financial exploitation.

"Is the person who's the power of attorney or those people around them, are they getting new items? Is someone's power bill not being paid? Is their rent not being paid?" said Lilly.

But most victims suffer silently. Only one-of-every-24 cases of elder abuse is reported to authorities and today's technology makes it easier than ever to scam the elderly.

In my day, you wrote a check, you went to the bank, they said, that's not Abbott's signature on there. Now they don't even look at signatures, you have a PIN number. You know you can do your banking on the internet," said Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Mike Abbott.

But that's about to change. A new law goes into effect in Virginia on July 1.

"What this law does is toughen it up, saying, 'hey, if you are aware of some type of Elder Abuse, then you are to report it," said Delegate Kilgore.

And getting this crime under control helps us all because none of us are getting any younger.

"With the statistic that one in five, over 65, is going to be a target, and going to be abused, and going to be stolen from, that's a dangerous statistic and it's one that I want to reduce so that I'm not a victim one day. And you're not a victim one day," Slemp said.

If you spot signs of physical or financial abuse of an elderly person, you can report it to your local department of social services or to a law enforcement agency. All tips can remain anonymous.

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