LUMBERTON — The abuse of older people is a growing problem in Robeson County that no longer can be ignored, County Commissioner Raymond Cummings told a gathering of health-care workers on Thursday.
Cummings, chairman of the board for the Department of Social Services, spoke during a ceremony at Wesley Pines in Lumberton recognizing World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, an observance that has been held on June 15 since it was launched on June 15, 2006, by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations. It was held early in Robeson County because June 15 is a Sunday.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, the purpose of the day is to provide opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older people by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic, and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.
“Five million Americans every year are victims of elder abuse,” Cummings said. “For every case of abuse reported, 23 cases are not reported.
“Let’s get a handle on this situation while we can,” Cummings said. “… A long time ago, folks were brought up to respect their elders, but we’ve gotten away from that.”
Elder abuse can take many forms, including verbal, physical and financial. It can include neglect by family members, caretakers, friends or others.
Cummings said there are several things people can do to help reduce or eliminate elder abuse and make the lives of the elderly safe. They include learning signs of abuse, occasionally visiting an elderly individual, and providing rest breaks for those family members and others who provide care for the elderly.
Catherine Baker, with the Social Services Department, said that Robeson County is seeing a “steady increase in the mistreatment” toward elderly and disabled adults. The confirmation rate for the cases of alleged mistreatment of elderly and disabled adults that DSS investigated is 69 percent, she said.
Emily Locklear, the executive director of Southeastern Family Violence Center, said she is seeing a significant increase in the number of elderly seeking abuse assistance from her agency.
“During 2013, 4 percent of the cases we served were individuals over 60,” she said. “That’s up from the year before when 3 percent of our cases served involved those over 60.”
Carol DeLoach, who handles finances for the Southeastern Family Violence Center, said that that the elderly are often financially abused by family members or others who suffer from substance abuse or mental health issues.
“The move now is toward financial abuse,” DeLoach said. “Nine out of 10 times when there is financial abuse of the elderly by relatives it is because they are on drugs.
“Remember life is precious and the elderly are precious,” she said. “Handle them with care.”
The purpose of Thursday’s observance, according to Twilla Allen, long-term care ombudsman with the Lumber River Council of Governments, was to increase awareness of what elder abuse is, how to identify the abuse, and educate people on how to report to authorities cases of elder abuse that they suspect or have witnessed.
“Most people are not aware of how to do this (report cases of abuse),” Allen said.
Several speakers at the observance emphasized that anyone who suspects or has definite knowledge of elder abuse should call the Robeson County Department of Social Services at 910-671-3500.
Allen said that Thursday’s program, attended by about 50, offered the opportunity for members of different agencies to get together to share ideas and learn what each agency is doing to combat elder abuse.
Following the informational program, a half-mile World Elder Abuse Awareness walk was held through Wesley Pines. At the end of the walk, a banner carried by walk leaders was signed by those participating in the event.