Bristol County agencies taking aim at growing issue of elder abuse

Article Date: June 10, 2014

From The Herald News

By Brian Fraga

FALL RIVER — Every year, law enforcement authorities in Bristol County investigate about 150 new criminal cases of elder abuse.

Meanwhile, Bristol Elder Services, a Fall River-based nonprofit agency geared toward protecting and serving the elderly, has received more than 2,300 elder abuse reports since July 2013.

“Unfortunately, it’s a growing issue, and more and more reports of elder abuse continue to come in,” Jennifer Dias-Rezendes said.

Dias-Rezendes, Bristol Elder’s protective services clinical director, spoke during a press conference Tuesday at the agency’s Fall River headquarters at 1 Father DeValles Blvd. The event kicked off a yearlong educational campaign to prevent elder abuse.

The campaign kickoff is also in recognition of the ninth annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15. Bristol Elder Services and the Southeastern Alliance for Elders, or SAFE, are seeking to spotlight the elder abuse issue, especially given the fact that seniors older than 85 are the fastest-growing segment of the country’s population.

Bristol County District Attorney Samuel Sutter, who spoke during the press conference, said his office has worked to protect the “most vulnerable” in Bristol County since he became district attorney in 2007.

“Clearly, that’s our children and our seniors,” said Sutter. He said he personally prosecuted a case last year involving a man who was convicted and sentenced to 3½ years in jail for abusing a 63-year-old Fairhaven man.

Sutter said the district attorney’s office assists seniors by prosecuting abuse cases, organizing abuse prevention programs and participating in collaborative efforts such as SAFE, the local justice coalition that serves the elderly of greater Fall River and New Bedford. Sutter called for rededicated efforts to protect seniors from abuse and provide them with a better quality of life.

One additional effort to prevent situations of elder neglect is the use of new bracelets that are being distributed to caregivers of the elderly. The bracelets are imprinted with the message “I Keep Someone SAFE Who Needs Care” and are accompanied by a card with emergency contact information in the event that the caregiver is incapacitated.

As the elderly population increases, the number of people older than 60 requiring care also increases, as does the number of caregivers. Those who care for the elderly — especially seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease — have work-related stress that can take a physical and mental toll unless they have support and adequate rest.

When the caregiver’s stress is high, that can leave a senior with dementia vulnerable to abuse or neglect, officials said.

“Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for caregivers to run out of patience and take out their frustrations on the person they are caring for,” said Jennifer Hoadley, the southeastern Massachusetts program director for The Alzheimer’s Association.

Hoadley said caregiver abuse may be under-reported because of the dementia-stricken elderly population’s loss of cognitive abilities. Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 5 million Americans. In Massachusetts, more than 120,000 people are living with Alzheimer’s. Hoadley said people younger than age 65 and women are increasingly being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Anyone who knows a local elder who is being abused, neglected, exploited or self-neglecting is urged to contact Bristol Elder Services at 508-675-2101. Bristol Elder Services Inc. is the agency responsible for elder protective services in greater Fall River, Attleboro and Taunton.

“We focus on the signs and symptoms of elder abuse and for ways to alleviate it,” Bristol Elder CEO Nancy Munson said.

Reports may also be filed after normal business hours with the statewide elder abuse hot line at 1-800-922-2275.

Original Article: http://www.heraldnews.com/article/20140610/NEWS/140619406