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According to the National Council on Aging, up to five million older Americans are abused every year, and the annual loss by victims of financial abuse is estimated at $2.6 billion. One in five older Americans has been financially exploited. The shocking truth is that in the majority of elder abuse and neglect cases, the perpetrator is a family member, most often an adult child or spouse.

In support of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which was June 15th, many local organizations want to share how they offer support for victims and the resources that are available.

Abuse takes many forms — physical, sexual and emotional abuse, passive neglect and self-neglect. Another type of abuse is financial exploitation — the misuse or withholding of an older adult’s resources. In order to prevent elder abuse, we all need to be aware of red flags or warning signs that are sometimes physical (bruises, broken bones, abrasions, burns) or emotional (unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness or unusual depression, frequent arguments between the caregiver and older adult). Signs of financial abuse may include unusual withdrawals or insufficient fund activity, concern or confusion about missing funds, forged or suspicious signatures on documents or new and unusual relationships. Then there’s neglect, sometimes trademarked by bedsores, poor hygiene, unusual weight loss or unattended medical needs.

There are several efforts underway close to home to prevent elder abuse and improve support for victims. New state laws aim to safeguard senior adults, as well as other vulnerable adults, by imposing enhanced civil penalties for financial abuse, providing banks the ability to pause transactions they suspect are financial fraud, and providing civil and administrative immunity to broker-dealers, advisors and other qualified individuals for reporting suspected exploitation to the TN Securities Division.

The TN Dept. of Human Services’ Adult Protective Services is currently working with other state agencies to improve the investigation, response and service delivery of protective services to vulnerable adults. Chapters of the Tennessee Vulnerable Adult Coalition, including the Middle Tennessee Elder Watch affiliate based at the Council on Aging, are distributing educational pocket guides to financial, medical and law enforcement personnel, thanks to support from the West End Home Foundation and the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. Many organizations including FiftyForward, COA, AARP Fraud Watch Network, the TN Dept. of Commerce and the Attorney General’s office provide scam prevention information and presentations. The Council on Aging has a free monthly “Scam of the Month” email blast. Also, Nashville and Cookeville are creating Family Justice Centers, similar to ones in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Memphis, where victims of domestic violence and abuse can find a wide range of services and support under one roof.

Abuse of older and vulnerable adults is against the law, and Tennessee is a “mandatory reporting” state. If you see abuse, or even suspect that an adult is being abused, neglected, or exploited, you must report it. Call the state Adult Protective Services unit toll free at 1-888-277-8366 or contact your local law enforcement agency. Trained APS workers will investigate the suspicions, and reports can be anonymous. For institutional abuse in a nursing home or long-term care facility, call the Tennessee long-term care ombudsman at 1-877-236-0013. Please consider if you know an older adult who may be a victim of elder abuse or neglect. You could save a life!

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