Yolo County saw increase in elder abuse reports during COVID

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By Kathleen Newton Special to the Express During the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a dramatic increase in reports of elder abuse in Yolo County. According to Melinda Meeken, Yolo County social worker supervisor, reports of various types of elder abuse rose nearly 20 percent in 2020. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, the office of Adult Protective Services received 956 elder abuse reports. The following year, that number rose to 1,132 and it is expected to reach 1,200 this year. June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month and, according to Yolo County Adult Protective Services staff, such abuse is expected to increase as the population ages. By 2040, over 70,000 people age 60 and older are projected to be living in Yolo County. That figure is well over three times the number of seniors there were in 2000; it represents a growth rate of 235 percent over the last 40-year period. In comparison, California’s expected senior growth rate over those four decades is 170 percent. Meeken said elder abuse can take many forms, including financial abuse, physical or mental abuse and self-neglect. “The most calls we get are for financial abuse,” said Meeken. “These include phone scams in which they ask the victim to buy gift cards to bail out family. Or scammers may claim to be with PG&E to get onto their property. There are internet scams to gain remote access to the client’s computers to install malware or access bank account information. It is a real problem.” Meeken said self-neglect is the second most common form of abuse reported in the county. These cases can range from elderly people failing to take their medication, to not being able to maintain healthy conditions in their home, or being physically or mentally unable to care for themselves. Homeless individuals are particularly vulnerable to self-neglect and abuse by others. There also are cases in which the client resists help. “Our community is aging,” said Meeken. “A great many of our clients in Davis, Woodland and even West Sacramento are very well educated, but they are in the early stages of memory decline or capacity loss. They think they are fine, so they refuse our help. It is difficult to help someone who doesn’t want it, because APS must respect the principle of self-determination.” Meeken said the single greatest risk factor for elder abuse is isolation. “It’s not just for those people living by themselves. Even if an elder is living with family members or friends, he or she can be isolated. In some extreme situations, caregivers may take away their Social Security checks, block their contact with outsiders or keep them confined to the house because they don’t want people to know what they are doing.” Experts emphasize that it is critical that people maintain constant contact with their elderly loved ones. “Keep calling them,” Meeken said. “Make sure that you don’t sense any hesitation in their responses to your questions, any uncharacteristic behaviors or talk of to new friends. Without communication, you won’t be able to see the signs of possible abuse.” Meeken urged loved ones to contact APS for advice and help. “A lot of times people think that APS will come in and take someone out of their home and put them in a facility. APS does not have any authority to do that,” Meeken said. “But we can help families and neighbors come up with a solution. If you come talk to us and communicate with us, there have been times when there has been a happy ending because family or neighbors have worked with us to create a safety plan for those people.” She also urged older adults to draft living wills and estate plans while they are still healthy. “You need to be thinking and planning for what happens if you can no longer take care of yourself,” Meeken said. “If you don’t have a living will and you have diminished capacity, we have to make decisions for you. If things are written down, that alleviates a lot of the issues.” Watch for these signs of elder abuse:

  • Lack of basic amenities.
  • Cluttered, filthy living environment.
  • Unexplained or uncharacteristic changes in behavior.
  • Harassment, coercion, intimidation, humiliation.
  • Caregiver isolates elder.

To spot financial abuse, look for sudden changes in the older person’s financial situation, such as:

  • Suspicious changes in wills or powers of attorney.
  • Financial activity the person couldn’t have done herself.
  • Bills not being paid.
  • Significant withdrawals or unusual purchases.

How to report suspected cases of elder abuse: If you believe an elderly person is in immediate danger, call 911. Otherwise, call Yolo County Adult Protective Services (APS) at 530-661-2727 or visit https://bit.ly/3xo1dFn. To report suspected abuse of an elder in a nursing home, residential care facility for the elderly, or assisted living facility, contact California’s CRISISline at 800-231-4024. During business hours call the local Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program of Agency on Aging Area 4 at 530-668-5775. To learn more about how to prevent elder abuse, visit https://elderabuseawareness.c4a.info/.

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