Douglas TRIAD hosts elder abuse seminar

A coalition of law enforcement officers, firefighters and senior citizens hosted a seminar Tuesday on elder abuse.

"Elder abuse happens everywhere, but it's never reported, mainly because the person it's happening to is scared," said TRIAD president Samantha Heers.

Douglas County Sheriff's Office investigator Ron Elges said the cases of elder abuse he's seen could be a small handful of what's really occurring. He described a case in Douglas County where an elderly woman was found isolated in the rear bedroom of a house with days worth of food encrusted on her chest. He said her supposed caregiver just dumped the food on top of her and left her there.

Carol Sala, administrator of Nevada Department of Aging Services, said elder abuse takes many forms. Physical abuse can range from afflicting pain on someone to overmedicating the victim. Psychological abuse includes verbal harassment, humiliation and intimidation. Neglect involves a lack of proper care, such as in the case Elges described.

Sala said that in cases of isolation, the caregiver often feels they're helping the victim by preventing them from wandering away. She also said many cases of neglect are self-imposed: Elderly persons who live in unclean or dangerous conditions and refuse help.

"We need to heighten awareness," Sala said. "The problem is going to get worse with the rapidly growing senior population in this state."

Sala also expressed concern about a recent increase in exploitation. She defined exploitation as a violation of a relationship based on trust, often resulting in a victim's bank account being accessed without permission or through intimidation.

Mahlon Teter of Colonial Bank in Carson City said exploitation can range from fake lotteries, phony investors and even family members pressuring older relatives to give them money. He said the current senior population is an easy target because they have large assets and were raised to be trusting.

Teter said bankers and tellers are trained to watch for signs of exploitation, such as changes in spending habits, or talk about strange investments. He mentioned a case in Reno where a Wells Fargo banker noticed suspicious fluctuations in the account of an elderly woman. Investigators found that a younger man had befriended the woman then coaxed her into writing him large checks. The man was arrested, but only after taking nearly $200,000 from the victim.

Kay Rogney of Elder Protective Services said that anyone who suspects elder abuse is occurring should call authorities immediately, whether its Elder Protective Services which has offices in Carson City and Reno or local law enforcement agencies. She said that all reports remain confidential. She said doctors, nurses, or other caregivers are required by law to report suspected abuse. For more information about elder abuse, contact Douglas County TRIAD at (775) 782-9858.

-- Scott Neuffer can be reached at sneuffer@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 217.

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