Elder abuse occurs everywhere, even here | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Elder abuse occurs everywhere, even here

Susan Wood, Tahoe Daily Tribune

The stories surrounding elder abuse can make your skin crawl — especially when they involve people in our own community.

That’s why the El Dorado County Commission on Aging brought a heavyweight group of panelists together Thursday at the South Lake Tahoe Recreation Center to address this underreported but growing problem.

El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury, the keynote speaker, gave several examples to a room full of curious seniors.

She didn’t have to go far to find them.

Kingsbury shared an example from her own family in which an 82-year-old man’s son embezzled the senior’s life savings.

Another recent story highlighted a 78-year-old man taken in by a Nigerian investment scam.

Kingsbury, who admits that she learns more about people than she’d like to, added a local abuse case in which a son beat and neglected his parents because they refused to support his drug habit. They died, and the man was sent to prison.

“This is a small community. We keep our doors unlocked and trust our neighbors. But I’m here to tell you there are criminals out there,” she said.

Kingsbury brought statistics that one in 20 seniors will experience some form of abuse.

The law defines elder abuse as conduct of “physical abuse, neglect, intimidation, cruel punishment, fiduciary abuse, abandonment or other treatment … resulting (in) physical harm or pain or mental suffering or the deprivation by a care custodian of goods and services which are necessary to avoid physical harm or mental suffering.”

An elder is defined by law as 65 years old and older. Offenses include misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the severity of the crime.

In many cases, the adult children of the victims commit the offenses.

This trend accentuates the shame behind the abuse. Of those who are abused, only 1 in 14 will report it to authorities, statistics show.

One woman, who chose to use her first name only, cited repeated times in which she was “ripped off” — even after securing a safety deposit box at a local bank.

“I’m embarrassed to stand in front of this community to say this,” Linda said. The seminar brought out many personal experiences and about a dozen representatives of agencies that deal with the crime, including the county Welfare Fraud investigative team who sat at county Supervisor Helen Baumann’s table.

“We realize our senior population is growing in very large amounts,” said Baumann, a registered nurse by trade.

She said the county is doing its best at dealing with the issue, but she worries the local government sits at the mercy of the state’s budget problems.

“There’s a great deal of concern for money in services that we provide for our seniors,” she said.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com

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