It Will Take a Village to Prevent Elder Abuse

An Editorial

Hampton Union, Friday, April 2, 2004

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

They say every cloud has a silver lining, but it is difficult to determine what good can come from the tragic death of 85-year-old Alice Keyho of Hampton. The facts of the case, as they are emerging, are tragic and horrific.

What Keyho's death does do, however, is bring the public spotlight to bear on something most of us would just as soon forget exists - elder abuse, often perpetrated by family members.

The National Center on Elder Abuse periodically collects, analyzes and publishes statistics on abuse of older persons in the United States. Findings from the often-cited National Elder Abuse Incidence Study suggest that more than 500,000 Americans, aged 60 and over, were victims of domestic abuse in 1996. This study also found that only 16 percent of the abuse situations are referred for help: 84 percent remain hidden.

While a couple of studies estimate that between 3 percent and 5 percent of the elderly population have been abused, the Senate Special Committee on Aging estimates that there may be as many as 5 million victims every year. One consistent finding, over a 10-year study period, is that reports nationally have increased each year, which includes New Hampshire. According to Doug McNutt, acting director of the state Division of Elderly and Adult Services, which handles all adult cases of abuse and neglect, the state has seen more elderly abuse cases over the past year. He said that 1,123 victims were between the ages of 60 and 89 of the 1,873 cases of abuses, neglect and exploitation reported to the state in 2003. That's about 60 percent.

These are shocking statistics and reflect the so-called "graying of America," coupled with the enormous pressures care-givers are under in today's society as social and support services receive less and less money each year from state and federal governments suffering from the results of skyrocketing health care costs and a sputtering economy.

So, once again, as in cases of spousal or child abuse, the task falls to each and every one of us to look out for our neighbors. As governmental priorities shift, it is up to neighbors and local agencies to pick up the slack. It is also essential that we let law-makers and government decision-makers know that priorities have shifted too far and that we, as a society that values its citizens of all ages need to provide social support to prevent such tragedies from occurring.

Help already exists. Organizations such as The Elder Concerns and Abuse Prevention Task Force in Portsmouth (431-1980) as well as the regional office of the state Division of Elderly and Adult Services (1-800-821-0326) respond to reports of abuse. New Hampshire has ombudsmen for elderly affairs (271-4375).

And, of course, there is also the local police department. But, ultimately, events such as those that allegedly took place in Hampton can only be stopped by family, friends and neighbors taking active interests in each others' lives.

It is hard to become involved, but all too often lives can depend on whether that step is taken.

-- Hampton Union