Compassion Action Network puts spotlight on elder abuse

Approximately one in 10 adults 65 or older experiences elder abuse, and 50 percent of people suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia face abuse, usually from a trusted caregiver, according to the documentary “Elder Victims: Abused, Exploited, Alone.”

Amanda Vickstrom, crime and prevention outreach coordinator with the Anoka County Attorney’s Office, outlined the growing problem of elder abuse and resources to address it at the monthly Anoka County Compassion Action Network meeting Sept. 5. Photo by Olivia Koester

Amanda Vickstrom, crime and prevention outreach coordinator with the Anoka County Attorney’s Office, outlined the growing problem of elder abuse and resources to address it at the monthly Anoka County Compassion Action Network meeting Sept. 5. Photo by Olivia Koester

Nearly 30 community members – men and women from local churches, clinics and community organizations – heard these statistics Sept. 5 and specific information about elder abuse in this community at the Anoka County Compassion Action Network meeting in Fridley.

Elder abuse is a growing problem, one that the Anoka County Attorney’s Office is battling through the SAFE Elder Initiative – Stop Abuse and Financial Exploitation, a statewide push launched in Anoka County in 2012.

Amanda Vickstrom, crime and prevention outreach coordinator with the county attorney’s office, discussed the initiative and elder abuse more broadly at the meeting.

What is elder abuse?

Abuse can have many forms – physical, verbal, psychological, sexual, financial, etc.

In traditional domestic violence cases, abusers often want control, according to Vickstrom, who worked in domestic violence prevention for 15 years before stepping into her current position. But, with elder abuse, “the carrot is almost always the money … it’s almost always their assets.”

Perpetrators often have the attitude that they’re going to inherit their elderly relatives’ money someday anyway, so why shouldn’t they just start taking it now, Vickstrom said. “It’s not true and it’s not legal,” she said.

It continues to be difficult to prosecute elder abuse cases, Vickstrom said. For one thing, since the perpetrators are often family members, elders don’t want to drag their loved ones to court; they just want the abuse to stop.

Additionally, many elderly victims die before their cases go to trial and before recent changes to the law, it wasn’t clear whether restitution could be sought on behalf of an estate.

With so few consequences, perpetrators knew they could likely get away scot-free, according to Vickstrom.

“We are with elder abuse where child abuse was in the early ’80s,” Vickstrom said, speaking on the need for both legislative and social changes.

How can you help?

The SAFE Elder Initiative suggests asking three basic questions of the older adults in your life:

1. Is someone taking or using your money without your permission?

2. Are you afraid of anyone?

3. Is anybody hurting you?

If you suspect that someone you know is being abused, neglected or exploited, call local law enforcement. If it is an emergency, call 911.

Currently, each county in Minnesota has its own adult protective services line, but soon, the state will have one line. The adult protective services line in Anoka County is 763-422-7168.

The initiative, with Twin Cities Public Television, produced a 26-minute documentary on elder abuse, “Elder Victims: Abuse, Exploited, Alone,” that can be viewed online at www.safemn.org for more information.

“Show it in your church; show it in your book club,” Vickstrom urged attendees at the Compassion Action Network meeting.

Many plan to do so.

Pat King had never been to a Compassion Action Network meeting before Sept. 5. She heard that Vickstrom would be speaking on elder abuse and as a member of a 55-plus group at Fridley United Methodist Church, she came to educate herself.

“This is a topic that all of us in our age group need to know about,” King said after the meeting.

The documentary would be a good thing to show at one of her church group’s monthly lunches, she said.

Looking forward, Anoka County has applied for a three-year federal grant to provide more “intensive training” to county law enforcement and health professionals on how to deal with elder abuse issues. The county should hear on Sept. 30 whether it has been awarded the grant, Vickstrom said. “I’m very hopeful,” she said.

Anoka County’s Compassion Action Network is a collaborative effort of Anoka County Human Services, faith communities and non-profit organizations “working together to help individuals discover the value of their own gifts when connected with the gifts of others and the power of this linkage in meeting our communities’ needs,” as stated at www.compassionnet_mn.com.

The network operates under this mission statement, “Compassion Action Network fosters collaborative opportunities to creatively address community needs in Anoka County.”

 Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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