Elder-abuse Talks Respond To Death

By Lara Bricker

Hampton Union, Friday, April 23, 2004

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

Helen Garland

HAMPTON - After a tragic event like Alice Keyho's death - allegedly a case of lethal elder abuse - people may find themselves wondering if there was something they could have done.

Community support services and elder-abuse experts understand and have organized two forums on elder abuse Monday, April 26, to address questions and offer support. The forums, called "Am I My Neighbor's Keeper?" will be held from 2-4 p.m. at the Partridge House on Route 1 and from 6-8 p.m. at the Hobbs House on High Street.

"What we're hoping to do with the forum is to make Alice's story a meaningful story, not just one where everybody blames themselves, but one which the whole community can learn from," said L. Rene Bergeron, an associate professor of social work at the University of New Hampshire, who researches elder abuse. "I think it's a way of honoring the victim by hopefully calling attention to a very hidden issue. That's really the purpose of the forum is to educate people."

Keyho, 85, was found dead and battered in her sister Helen Garland's Hampton home last month. She had 22 broken ribs, two black eyes, brain hemorrhaging and abrasions. Garland first told police her sister had fallen down the stairs. When confronted with results of an autopsy, which showed a post-mortem abrasion on Keyho's back, Garland allegedly changed her story. She then told police she had hit her sister but didn't think she could have killed her, police said.

Garland, 74, was arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree assault for allegedly beating her sister before her death. Prosecutors say they have not ruled out the possibility of filing murder charges in the case. The case has been called one of the worst of suspected elder abuse in the state.

"We can't talk about this situation a lot," said Susan Turner, director of the Alliance for Community Health and Community Resource Network in regard to the ongoing criminal case against Garland. "We'll be available afterward so that people can talk personally with some of the people if they like."

Keyho, who lived in the Newton, Mass., area most of her life, was sent to live with Garland in May 2003 after her brother Bobby, with whom she lived, had a heart attack. One of five children, Keyho had lived with another brother, George, until his death, then moved to stay with Bobby. Garland told police she was not happy about her sister coming to live with her, felt she was a burden and did not trust her, according to court paperwork.

One of the most common theories presented as a reason for elder abuse is caregiver stress, Bergeron said.

"We really don't have studies that show that's the primary cause. What we think is probably more of a cause is the personality of the caregiver," she said, adding that an involuntary caregiver situation, such as Garland's is "precarious at best. The caregiver feels trapped."

Neighbors of Garland's blue ranch-style home on Philbrook Terrace reported that they had not seen Keyho for months. Some suspected she didn't live there anymore.

Bergeron said isolation of an older person is often a sign of abuse inside the home. An older person may be hesitant to tell anyone about abuse because they fear going to a nursing home.

Elder abuse is a hard form of abuse for society to understand, or even believe, she said.

"The community is probably shocked that an old person could abuse another old person," Bergeron said. "It's not just the community that thinks that way. It's also law enforcement that sometimes thinks that way."

The forum will detail the laws surrounding elder abuse and what services or sources of help are available.

"We understand that people are upset and will be upset," Turner said. "How would you know that anything was going on and how do you deal with that? What do you know about elder abuse? How do you recognize it? What responsibility do you have as a neighbor and a professional? The goal is to get people together and talk about it."

The speakers will also address when people should make reports.

"You don't want to start filing reports on every old person just because they're old. You don't want to create a community of vigilantes," Bergeron said. "If it's any comfort to anybody, elder abuse does not receive the publicity that all other forms of abuse do."

The forums are being coordinated through Rockingham Community Action, the Community Resource Network, Exeter Hospital Resources, the Community Council of Senior Citizens, the UNH Social Work Department and the state Division of Elder and Adult Services.