North Adams Transcript
NORTH ADAMS -- One of the state’s fastest growing forms of abuse isn’t easily spotted and comes in a variety of forms.
Preventing crimes against one of the county’s largest and most susceptible populations -- senior citizens -- was the topic of discussion at the Brien Center’s Adult Day Health Center on Monday, as local officials and Council On Aging directors banded together to shed light on elder abuse and local prevention efforts.
"According to the Massachusetts Executive Officer of Elder Affairs, there were over 18,000 reports of elder abuse in 2011, which was an increase over the year before," state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, who organized the talk, said. "The increase is obviously a worrisome trend. ... There are always unscrupulous people preying on people who are vulnerable."
She said there are a myriad of reasons that contribute to elder abuse, including increases in economic challenges, past trauma, poor health, isolation, self-neglect and even a caregiver’s ignorance of the elder’s disease.
Maureen Tuggey, director of client services at Elder Services of Berkshire County Inc., said many cases of caregiver neglect are unintentional.
"It’s not only important to provide services to the individual, but equally as important to recognize the caregiver," she said. "I believe, in most cases of caregiver neglect, it is benign neglect. Oftentimes the
Tuggey said Elder Services provides a variety of home care programs to help care for seniors and help connect caregivers with resources, such as the Alzheimer’s Association.
She said Elder Services also has an omnibus program that visits local nursing homes, including the three in north county, on a weekly basis to monitor residents for signs of abuse.
Berkshire Protective Services, which investigates cases of elder abuse, receives about 100 reports a month, she said.
But the term "elder abuse" encapsulates more than just physical or emotional abuse and neglect; it also includes financial exploitation.
North Adams Police Lt. David Sacco, who works alongside the local TRIAD group -- a community policing initiative of seniors, law enforcement and service agencies -- said one of the most common and fastest growing crimes against seniors is fraud through the mail or online.
"Many seniors are receiving letters in the mail saying they’ve won a prize of some kind and all they have to do is cash a check and send part of the money back. It’s a scam," he said. "There’s an old saying that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Have someone in your family check this out. If someone knocks at your door offering to do something for you, little red flags should go up. Don’t let people in your homes."
TRIAD President Pearl Mullett said the group offers monthly programs aimed at educating seniors.
"There are a lot of telephone scams out there," she said. "Don’t talk to these people and don’t give them any of your information. Nobody needs your Social Security number. Our goal in TRIAD is to keep you safe."
Cariddi said one way the commonwealth has tried to combat elder abuse is through the funding of local Councils On Aging.
"There are 349 Councils on Aging across the state and last year. Some 500,000 elders received services from them," she said. "So 45 percent of our elderly population was somehow touched by these programs."
Williamstown Council On Aging Director Brian O’Grady said local programs provide a variety of services like physical fitness, meals and daily activities, but they can also serve as a resource for those who suspect elder abuse is taking place.
"Abusers frequently are not people we would expect," he said. "They are not all evil-looking people lurking in the bushes to defraud people. Many times they are family members or friends who elders don’t want to tell on. They don’t want to call the police. We can be the bad guys for you."