06/29/17 — Elder abuse: What it is and where to find resources in Wayne County

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Elder abuse: What it is and where to find resources in Wayne County

By Melinda Harrell
Published in News on June 29, 2017 1:14 PM

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The Peggy Seegars Senior Center offers classes for caregivers as well as support for seniors.

Elder abuse can be insidious and oftentimes unintentional but with the right information and resources it can be curbed, said the director of Wayne County Services on Aging Paula Edwards.

In light of June being Elder Abuse Awareness Month, and the elderly population being one of the most  vulnerable demographics -- which amounts to 13.6 percent of the county's population -- informing the community about elder abuse is paramount.

Edwards said that elder abuse can be many things, including scams, financial exploitation, physical abuse and neglect.

She also said though neglect is a form of abuse, it can largely be unintentional.

"Sometimes, it may not be intentional, but it may be lack of understanding or lack of support or not knowing where to go to get relief," she said.

Edwards said the Peggy Seegars Senior Center offers programs for caregivers to help educate them on how to provide for their elderly loved ones and directs them to resources they may need.

"Sometimes caregiving is very stressful, sometimes they don't know where to go to get the resources that help relieve them," Edwards said.

"We have family support programs to provide vouchers that give financial relief where they can go out and get a caregiver."

• The Wayne County Services on Aging has an In-Home Aid Program, which provides hands-on personal care services at the residence of the senior.

• The Day Respite Program allows caregivers to bring their loved ones to the senior center three days a week from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Edwards said there is a waiting list for this program, but it is valuable because in some cases, a break from providing care to the elderly person is relieving.

• The Family Caregiver Support Program provides vouchers for those who need financial help.

• The Project Care Vouchers is a state program offered through the Wayne County Services on Aging which gives families financial assistance to hire someone to care for diagnosed dementia and Alzheimer's patients.

The senior center also offers educational classes for caregivers to better understand dementia and Alzheimer's Disease, as well as giving support to those who are caring for the elderly population, and a counselor at the center is available to offer guidance to services a caregiver may need.

Meals on Wheels and visiting the senior center is also a way to help those who may be suffering, she said.

"If seniors are independent, they can come to the senior center," Edwards explained.

"When the senior is involved in the senior center, we can put eyes on them, and we can tell if there are changes in their personality, and see if they are coming in clean or if they losing weight. We can see if they are being neglected, and the family is not aware of it."

With independent-living seniors in cases of dementia or Alzheimer's Disease onset, the family often does not realize there is a problem, she said, and the senior center is a valuable tool in recognizing the elderly person's potential decline in mental health.

Physical abuse, financial exploitation and scams are in most cases intentional.

Edwards said the elderly are subject to scamming and should report any type of suspicious offer to the Wayne County Sheriff's Office.

"It can happen through scams, whether they receive a call or on the computer or when someone comes to their door," she said.

"If they are suspicious, contact the sheriff's (department). (The perpetrators may) say, 'I would like to do some work on their home.' And they end up not doing the work or doing poor work."

She said financial exploitation -- when someone takes the victim's money and uses it for their own gain instead of in the best interest of the elderly person -- and physical abuse can be committed by family members, in which case largely go unreported.

"We believe they are not reported because, if it involves family members, they don't want to get their son or daughter in trouble, and they feel like if they are taken away, they won't have anyone to care for them," she said.

"And for some, it is embarrassment. They don't want anyone to know they are being taken advantage of. And sometimes, they are not capable of reporting it because they are isolated and people haven't seen them."

People who believe an elderly person is being mistreated should contact the Department of Social Services or the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, Edwards said.

There is also resources for family members to use if they believe there is abuse inside a care facility.

The East Carolina Council offers advocates for residents' rights, called ombudsman, who will investigate complaints.

"If you have any issues or grievances -- maybe you are feeling like they aren't allowing them to exercise their rights, too -- sometimes its not just abuse," Edwards explained.

By calling  252-638-3185 or 1-800-824-4648, a liaison can find an ombudsman for the region in which the family member is living.