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Tallahassee Democrat

Our Opinion: Care for our elders
Recognize, report signs of abuse

June 17, 2010

The phrase "protecting our most vulnerable citizens" often evokes images of children who need protection from neglectful parents or predators outside the home.

Recently, however, more attention is turning to the horrors of elder abuse, when seniors dependent on others for everything from critical-care services to fiscal management become prey.

The drama during the last years of New York philanthropist Brooke Astor's life is perhaps the
most well-publicized case of elder abuse in recent history. Ms. Astor, who died in 2007 from
Alzheimer's disease at age 105, was a symbol of the evils of elder abuse at the hands of her adopted son, Anthony Marshall. Accused of neglecting his mother, he was jailed after siphoning money from her multimillion-dollar estate.

Closer to home, elder abuse remains a growing danger for 4.4 million Floridians who are wrestling to maintain their independence and simultaneously live out their years with the dignity and compassionate care they deserve. The state Department of Children and Families received 41,019 reports of mistreatment of seniors during the last fiscal year. These include cases of neglect — being denied proper care in nursing homes and adult day care facilities or abandonment by a caregiver; physical abuse, including improper use of restraints; sexual abuse; psychological/emotional abuse; and exploitation of financial resources.

As boomers and sandwich-generation adults (those caring for aging parents and children under age 18) plan for their years ahead, they can take several steps to protect their loved ones and themselves from being vulnerable to abuse.

Self-care in terms of promoting optimal health is a cornerstone, as is having a power of attorney or living will drawn up to dictate advance-care directives. For elders dependent on others, reinforcing social ties with friends and family wards off a threat of isolation, and helps decrease a risk of abuse by a single caregiver working alone.

Suspected cases of abuse should be immediately reported to a facility's ombudsman, or locally to the Department of Children and Families (call 800-96- ABUSE).

As a growing number of baby boomers look ahead to their golden years and beyond, the crimes of elder abuse will draw greater public attention. For millions of Americans, though, it's not too early to begin advocating for better protections for seniors to make sure their final years are filled with dignity and compassion.