PITTSFIELD -- With one of the highest percentage of senior citizens in the state, Berkshire County is particularly susceptible to the growing problem of elder abuse.
On Friday, local and state officials gathered at the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center on North Street to mark the seventh annual World Elder Abuse Day by describing local efforts to combat the issue.
"For many, many years the elderly have suffered in silence," said Vincent Mari naro, the senior center's executive director. "The good news is we're shedding light on this issue."
The U.S. Administration on Aging believes that nearly two million Americans over the age of 60 experience some form of abuse every year, but only one in five cases is ever reported, according to the National Cen ter on Elderly Abuse.
In Massachusetts, 55 protective reports involving the elderly are filed every day, according to Mary O'Brien, the Berkshire County coordinator for Elder Protective Services, which has a satellite office in Pittsfield. There are 1,835 active cases of elder abuse that are currently being investigated across the state, including 430 that are "brand new," she said.
"So it's not a small issue," O'Brien said.
In Berkshire County, 530 incidents of elder abuse have been reported over the last eight months. Of that number, 379 have been "screened in," which means there is reason to believe that Elder Protective Services needs to assess the situation. The
O'Brien said those reports include several cases of self-neglect and financial exploitation, and "lots of consultations with the District Attorney's office." Elder Protective Ser vices also receives reports of physical, emotional, sexual and caregiver abuse involving the elderly, and notifies the Berk shire District Attorney's office if there is reason to believe a crime has been committed.
She said Berkshire County residents need to "get the word out" by reporting "any observation or conversation that alarms you" to Berkshire Elder Protective Services. The organization can be reached by calling (855) 874-3242 during normal business hours, and (800) 922-2275 on evenings, weekends and holidays.
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouver, Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, and Maureen Tuggey of the Pittsfield Council on Aging also spoke at Friday's news conference.
"I think el der abuse is very similar to child ab use," Farley-Bouvier said. "It's been going on for years and years and people are ashamed to talk about it."
Referring to Pittsfield-based Elder Services of Berkshire County, and the city's Re tired Senior Volunteer Prog ram (RSVP), Bianchi said Pittsfield has several resources that senior citizens can utilize.
"This wasn't even part of our lexicon," several years ago, said Bianchi, referring to elder abuse. "Unfort unately, it's part of our world today."