Elder abuse high in California, but rare in Winters

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Seniors living in California, the state with the highest elderly population growth rate, face concerning elder abuse statistics, though Winters has not seen a high incidence in reported elder abuse crimes in recent years. According to the National Council on Aging, one in 10 seniors—around 5 million Americans—suffers from elder abuse each year, and the occurrence of elder abuse increases risk of death by 300 percent. Elder abuse manifests in many forms: outright physical and sexual abuse; abandonment: neglect, either passive or willful; psychological and emotional abuse, like intimidation and verbal assault; and financial exploitation. Cognitive decline and lack of social connectedness are the biggest risk factors in elder abuse. Seniors unable to defend or advocate for themselves due to illnesses like dementia and other cognitive problems, or those with few friends and family, face the highest rates of abuse. In fact, over 50 percent of victims fall into one or both of these categories. Abuse of all kinds can occur in care facilities, licensed or not, but is particularly high among dementia patients, who are often improperly constrained or sedated with antipsychotic drugs. According to the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (BMFEA), 260,000 Californians live in 1,300 licensed nursing homes or 7,500 licensed residential care facilities, while another 150,000 live in an unknown number of unlicensed assisted living facilities. In 2009, a state report showed 13 percent of complaints about long-term care concerned abuse, including neglect and exploitation, over twice the national average of five percent. “Together, these staggering statistics and projections illustrate the urgent need to address and remedy the poor quality of care in many of California’s skilled nursing facilities,” the bureau said. The United States Census Bureau estimated the state’s elderly population will have doubled from 2000 to 2025, reaching 6.4 million, and according to the demographics website Area Vibes, Winters’ median age is six percent higher than the state average. Despite the staggering statistics seen across the state, Community Service Officer Gail Jimenez said though the Winters Police have dealt with cases of neglect and physical abuse in the past, the city is lucky that elder abuse hasn’t been a major problem in the town. The WPD investigated one case in 2018, with the previous case in 2014. Still, Jimenez advised, residents should be aware of the warning signs and take precautionary measures to protect their loved ones. “It can happen anywhere and it’s something people don’t like to talk about. But it’s important that people have these conversations with their elderly relatives,” Jimenez said. Warning signs include social withdrawal, abrupt emotional and financial changes, as well as outward physical signs of abuse like bruises. Financial abuse plagues elderly populations, who often delegate financial concerns to third parties and are more trusting of strangers than other groups. Elderly residents are targeted specifically by telephone scams, such as those where con artist call posing as members posing as a government official from the IRS or Social Security Administration to victims into sending money or providing personal information like credit card and social security numbers. John Ehrk, chief investigator for the Yolo County DA’s office, said, “According to the National Crime Prevention Council and in my own personal experience, senior citizens are more at risk to be victimized by telemarketing scams than other age groups. These dishonest telemarketers direct anywhere from 56 to 80 percent of their calls to the elderly,” Ehrk said. Offenders rely on the fact that seniors can be more trusting of others and less likely to report identity theft for fear their family members will think they are unable to maintain their independence.” Other forms of financial abuse can be particularly tricky, especially when dealing with family. Relatives and caregivers are often involved in elderly residents’ finances, which Jimenez said is usually a good thing. It’s not always easy to determine if a third party’s involvement is legitimate or criminal, but if financial abuse is suspected, it should be reported to the Winters Police or Yolo County Adult Protective Services. After a report is made, city and county agencies work together to determine if any wrongdoing is taking place, and if they suspect a crime, the case is brought to the Yolo County DA. Still, the National Council on Aging estimates only one in 14 instances of elder abuse is reported and seniors and their families need to be vigilant, even in Winters. Yolo County offers a wide array of services to older residents, including a 24-hour crisis hotline, Meals on Wheels, mental health and housing resources, and the Yolo Adult Day Health Center. Information about county and city resources, like contact information for local senior social groups, can be found on the City of Winters website under the “Community” tab.]]>

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