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Elder abuse on the rise, COVID-19 creates new concerns



Placing 262 purple pinwheels outside its office in La Crosse, the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) of La Crosse County raised awareness for the 262 elders who experienced abuse, neglect, or exploitation in the county last year.

The display was part of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 17. Cheryl Neubauer, adult protective services supervisor, said elder abuse can be verbal, physical, emotional, sexual, or financial. It can also include intentional or unintentional neglect.

Every year, an estimated one in 10 Americans 60-years-old and older are victims of elder abuse. Neubauer said cases are significantly under-reported. Research suggests as few as one in 14 cases of elder abuse come to the attention of authorities.

“Many elderly people are embarrassed or ashamed that they were taken advantage of, or they don’t want their family to be prosecuted,” Neubauer said.

Common cases of financial exploitation include a family member using money to purchase goods for an elder and using that money or an elder’s credit card for personal purposes.

It is a problem that continues to grow. Since 2001, Wisconsin saw a 171 percent increase in reported elder abuse cases. COVID-19 worsened the situation. Now, elders face contact tracing scams. Those pretending to be health officials ask for social security numbers to help track Coronavirus cases. At the beginning of the pandemic, elders were contacted by scammers selling a fake vaccine.

“With just this contact tracing scam that has been going on, elders have lost $6 billion,” Neubauer said. “Elderly people are very trusting, and they want to believe that no one would harm them. Unfortunately, it is just not true.”

One of the biggest risk factors for elder abuse is social isolation which can be especially concerning with physical distancing because of COVID-19.

“We are social creates by nature,” Neubauer said. “We need to call our elders and make certain things are going ok. Making those connections with people is so important.”

Anyone who suspects elder abuse can call the Wisconsin Elder Abuse Hotline at 1-833-586-0107 or visit reportelderabusewi.org. If the case regards a La Crosse County resident, individuals may also call La Crosse County Adult Protective Services/ADRC at 608-785-5700.

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.

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