MAYVILLE — June is recognized as World Elder Abuse Awareness Month, and various Chautauqua County officials are looking to spread the word.
“Reach Out, Speak Out” is the them of this year’s campaign, and it urges people to check in with seniors who have been especially isolated throughout the pandemic.
Nicole Parshall, a supervising attorney for the Center for Elder Law & Justice and the program director of the Elder Advocacy Program, was present and spoke about some of the issues elders faced during the pandemic.
“The past year has been incredibly difficult for our country as a whole,” Parshall said at Thursday’s gathering. “For older adults, particularly in a large, rural county such as our own, and for those that already experience some level of isolation before the pandemic, this year has brought sometimes terrible consequences.”
Parshall said the community is integral in highlighting elder abuse.
“We know that the identification of elder abuse … so often relies on the eyes and ears of our community,” she said. “Bank tellers, neighbors, those in service industries, health care aids (and) family and friends all play a vital role in identifying elder abuse and exploitation.”
Parshall said victims of elder abuse may be discouraged to report elder abuse for various reasons, which highlights even more the importance for community members to speak out.
“Victims are so often isolated and fearful of reporting the abuse, frequently because of long-existing family dynamics, concern for loved ones — even when they themselves are inflicting the abuse, and the threat of loss of independence,” Parshall said.
In the Elder Advocacy Program, the pandemic induced a sharp decline in cases of abuse brought to it. Parshall attributes this to a lack of witnesses because of people staying home, businesses closing and older adults being fearful of entering the community to find support.
These conditions were a breeding ground for abuse and exploitation throughout the past year. Parshall said her program has witnessed an “influx” of cases in recent weeks and months.
“Finally, as we emerge from this crisis, older adults are seeking the help and support they need,” Parshall said. “I cannot overstate the importance of an engaged community in identifying and addressing elder abuse.”
“We need you to reach out to the older adults in your neighborhood and at your businesses,” Parshall said.
Some signs of elder abuse include changes in spending habits, hygiene and mood or a new friend or partner exhibiting signs of being overly engaged or controlling.
County Executive PJ Wendel was also present to speak on the issue.
“Our elders, our parents, our grandparents took care of us, and they were our heroes,” he said, “so now it’s time for us to take care of them. It’s discouraging to hear that in this time, we still face these problems.”
Wendel then provided a proclamation on behalf of the county highlighting the presence of and condemning elder abuse in the community.
Leanna Luka-Conley, The deputy commissioner of Adult, Children & Family services, was also present to discuss the impacts of substance abuse on the elderly population.
“The increase of overdoses also has impact on our older population by increasing the risk of being exploited by stealing prescription drugs and finances” she said. “This has also impacted our grandparents, taking on a parent role of the grandchildren, because their own children are struggling with addiction.”
“We need to continue to enhance our efforts as a whole community to ensure that this generation of individuals continues to live a quality life and are safe from abuse and harm,” she continued.
Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt echoed the theme of this year’s campaign.
“They’re isolated and that means they’re most at risk,” Schmidt said. “What can we do? It’s reach out to the older adults in our life. Don’t just rely on the fact that they may have a provider. Speak out. If you see or hear something that doesn’t seem right, say something. And educate yourself, know where to turn. Adult Protective Services, the Center for Elder Law & Justice and law enforcement.”
State Assemblyman Andy Goodell noted that each person in a community plays a part in bringing light to elder abuse.
“There’s a role in each of us to help end elder abuse,” Goodell said. “It involves not only reaching out to friends and neighbors who are older and checking on their wellbeing, but speaking out. There’s one other thing: our role individually.”
“It’s up to all of us to lend a helping hand to our friends, our neighbors, our acquaintances who are older,” he continued. “To recognize that isolation and loneliness are important issues that we, individually, can help address.”
Legislator Lisa Vanstrom shared a few words on behalf of state Sen. George Borrello.
“Older Americans have made invaluable contributions to our families, our communities and our nation,” she said. “They deserve to live with dignity and respect, free from abuse, neglect and indifference.”
“Central to who we are as Americans is the idea that we are all in this together, and that we have a basic duty to look out for those in need, particularly the most vulnerable among us,” Vanstrom continued. “We all have a role in protecting our population. Don’t stay silent if you suspect elder abuse.”