The Best of…Nationally Elder Abuse and Neglect on the Increase

Published June 25, 2001, Pawtucket Times

           Although numerous federal studies and Congressional hearings have put the public spotlight on elder abuse and neglect over the years, a Special Senate on Aging panel calls for the nation to get serious to tackle this all-to-common tragedy, called by some “the dark side” of aging. 

           “With the senior population skyrocketing, incidents of elder abuse will only continue to rise,” warned Democratic Chairman John Breaux of Louisianato his panel colleagues at the June 14th hearing.   At the hearing Senator Breaux took over the reins of the Aging  Committee from the former Chairman Republican Larry Craig ofIdaho, with the Senate majority tipping to the Democrats.  Initially it was Senator Senator Craig who had planned and put the hearing on the Senate schedule.      

           At the  hearing, Chairman Breaux estimated that more than 820,000 older and developmentally disabled individuals are subjected to abuse, neglect and exploitation.  Meanwhile, throughout  the hearing “Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation: A Hidden National Tragedy,” several witnesses testified that this number is too low because of underreporting and there are no universal definitions of what is elder abuse and neglect.  To combat abuse, Chairman Breaux and the witnesses called for more funding to be provided to adult protective services, better training for medical personnel to identify the problem early and more resources for caregivers to help them with their caregiving responsibilities.

            Despite the fact that many believe that elder abuse and neglect take place in nursing facilities and assisted living facilities, most often times it occurs in a person’s home where nearly 95 percent of all domestic long-term care is being informally provided by family members and community-based caregivers, noted Chairman Breaux.

            Summing up testimony from hearing witnesses, a Senate Aging Committee staffer told The Times that elder abuse can be caused by social, medical and legal factors.

             “We are expecting families to provide a large amount of long-term care and we give only minimal assistance and support to them,” the Senate staffer said.  To deal with social factors causing elder abuse and neglect, “we need more respite care and training in care giving skills.” he added.   

             As to medical factors, the Senate staffer added, “it is crucial that better training be made available to physicians and nurses to recognize the early signs of elder abuse itself.”  If this occurred there could be much quicker interventions, he said.  

             Finally, legal factors, specifically the lack of funding for elder protective services, reduce the effectiveness of prosecuting persons who financially exploit elderly.

                 So what’s happening inRhode Island?

             According to Wayne Farrington, Chief of Facilities Regulation,Rhode Island’s Department of Health, elder abuse is on the increase in nursing facilities and assisted living facilities across the state.  “This year we have had about a 15 percent increase in reports of abuse, neglect or mistreatment,” he says.  Farrington speculates that the rise in reporting is a result of a better informed public who know where to register complaints combined with increased publicity over the staffing shortage in nursing facilities and community-based provider agencies.  The shortage of nursing assistants, who provide most of the direct patient care, along with nurses oftentimes results in the facility not being able to provide the needed care.

            “Because neglect abuse and mistreatment are criminal matters they are turned over to the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General for further investigation and prosecution, Farrington says.  “If we find that facilities have violated regulations that have resulted in the abuse or neglect we will cite the facility with deficiencies that may be tied to civil monetary penalties.

           According to Medicaid Fraud Unit Chief Bruce Todesco, of the state’s Office of the Attorney General, there are really no accurate statistics or numbers that tell the incidence of elder abuse and neglect inRhode Island.  “A lot of information comes from different sources,” he said, stressing that it would take a lot of work to pull together meaningful statistics.

           Adds, Genevieve  Allair-Johnson, Special Assistant Attorney General who serves as Elderly Affairs Liaison for Criminal Division, in the Attorney General’s Office, elder abuse and neglect cases may be under reported because the elderly person does not want to proceed against the child and competency issues often times come into play.

           “We work closely with the Department of Elderly Affairs and local police departments and provide them with legal assistance in their investigations, Allair-Johnson says.  “When discussing a case sometimes it comes up that additional inquiries will have to be made to bring about charges.”   

            Allair-Johnson states “Many times criminal charges will not be filed in cases because high standards must be met.”   Rather than filing criminal charges for elder abuse or neglect other options are in place like removing the elderly person from a home, or seeking a court ordered guardianship.

          Over the last few years the Office of the Attorney General has developed effective partnerships with the local police departments, Department of Elderly Affairs, and the Alliancefor Better Long-Term Care,” Allair-Johnson says.  “There are a host of state agencies and resources that are beginning to pull together to resolve this elder abuse issue. We’re going in the right direction.”

          To obtain materials on elder abuse, including the pamphlet “The Elder Victims Guide to the Criminal Justice System,” or to seek information about consumer issues or to report elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation, call the Attorney General’s Senior Line at 888-621-1112. 

          If one has a reasonable knowledge and suspects an elderly person has been abused neglected or mistreated in a nursing facility call the Division of Facility Regulation at 222-2566.

          Herbert P. Weiss is a Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based  free lance writer covering aging, health and medical care issues,  This article appeared in the June 25, 2001 in the Pawtucket Times.   He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

The Best of…Seniors to Become Computer Savvy

Published June  11, 2001, Pawtucket Times

           More than 50 years ago, Richard Walton received a Smith Corona portable typewriter from his parents for his 21st birthday.   Over the years the journalist and writer Walton, now age 73, touched typed eleven books on that bulky machine.  From his college days in the late forties until the early 1990s, he continued to use the antique typewriter.                 

         Today Walton has gone through three computers, his present system is a Compaq Presario, Model 7470.  “It pretty much has all the bells and whistles,” Walton says.  As a journalist he loves his computer because “you don’t have to retype entire pages.”  With his Smith Corona, any typos forced him to retype entire pages.   Now paragraphs can be moved around with ease, to view and change before the final draft.

         Walton gets other bennies from using new computer technology.  “I communicate with people everywhere using e-mail” he say,noting that when he needs to research topics for his articles its simple, just cruise the World Wide Web.

       Walton is one of growing number of seniors who are using the computer to keep in touch with family and friends, word processing documents, keeping the checkbook, making electronic purchases for a vast variety of items, from books, drugstore purchases to travel packages.  Seniors can also tap into this evolving technology to research and buy stocks and to do their banking and pay their bills. 

      Stacy Dieter, vice president of Business Development for SeniorNet, a nonprofit San Francisco-based company that teaches seniors to use computers and the internet, calls seniors “savvy” when it comes to operating computers.  “May be younger people are more use to maneuvering the mouse, but seniors can quickly pick up how the use the computer technology,” she says.

      Older adults are the fastest growing audience online, Dieter tells The Times.   According to Jupiter Communications, Dieter notes that by the year 2003, it is estimated that 27.3 million people over age 50 years old will be using the Internet regularly.”

       Adds Dieter, computer ownership is also slowly increasing too.   A SeniorNet and Charles Schwab & Company 1998 market research study found that 40 percent of all seniors now own a computer at home compared with 29 percent in 1995.  Meanwhile, seniors spend more time per month online (38 hours) than any other age group, with more than 83 percent making daily visits to the Internet, she says.

      Senior centers are also moving into the computer age by making computers more accessible to their older participants.   With assistance from the state’s Department of Elderly Affairs (DEA), a growing number of senior centers acrossRhode Islandare opening up computer labs. 

      With two Compaq computers provided by DEA, one donated by a Rhode Island  Dot.Com company, FindRI.Com, and one surplus City of Pawtucket computer, Joan Crawley, Director of Pawtucket’s Leon Mathius Senior Center, pieced together her equipment, bringing the computer age Pawtucket’s seniors.

        Beginning in June, a small multi-use room in the Senior Center, originally used for health promotion activities, was transformed into a computer lab.   The City of Pawtucket provided the expertise to install the computers with Internet access.

       “We’re in the organizational phase right now,”Crawley says, adding that her waiting list of seniors wanting to learn how to use computers and the Internet has grown to more than 30.

         Although Pawtucket’s Senior Center Director expects the computer lab to be up and running and courses taught by the fall, the computers are now available for use by those who are knowledgeable about their use.  Half and hour time slots will be made available to these individuals.

          Meanwhile, volunteer instructors are now being recruited to teach the basics (using computer’s key board and mouse) to learning computer software programs and how to surf the Internet.          “The perfect volunteer might be someone who has recently retired and wants to share their expertise,”Crawley says.  The more volunteers will allow the computer lab to have extended hours. .

          Why a computer lab?   “We want our seniors to use the Internet to look up information on health care, Social Security or even about Medicare. Crawley notes that a social worker will be available to assist the computer user in culling the needed information from the targeted web sites.

          Crawley adds, “Ultimately we would like to get an e-mail address so that seniors can talk to their love ones who live are far away.”  Additionally, she believes that savvy senior computer users can save money too, by not spending money for newspapers and magazine subscriptions.  They can just use the Internet to seek out information in hundreds of thousands of newspapers or magazines published around the world.

          By adding a computer lab to the Senior Center’s programming, “We’re very excited about bringing Pawtucket’s senior population into the 21st century,Crawley says gleefully.

          SeniorNet is the world’s largest trainer of adults over 50 on computer technology and the Internet with 220+ SeniorNet Learning Centers in 38 states as well as the best on-line community for older
adults at http://www.seniornet.org.

           Herbert P. Weiss is a Pawtucket Rhode Island-based writer covering aging, health and medical care  This article appeared in June 11, 2001 in the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.