Reports of elder abuse on the rise in Kenwood, Glen Ellen, and countywide
Reports of elder abuse in the Kenwood and Glen Ellen areas are on the rise, according to data recently released from the Sonoma County Human Services Department, mirroring the trend for the county as a whole. In 2015 there were 44 cases of elder abuse in Kenwood and Glen Ellen, up 57 percent from only 28 reports in 2014. Reports for all of Sonoma Valley totaled 411 in 2015. Countywide reports totaled 5,176 in 2015, the highest of any previous year, and a 13 percent increase from 2014.
Cases of financial abuse often make headlines, but any physical or sexual abuse, psychological harm, or neglect of vulnerable and dependent adults over 65 is also considered elder abuse. Elder abuse affects seniors across all socioeconomic groups, cultures, and races, although women and older elders are more likely to be at risk.
While many people perceive elder abuse as an act perpetrated by another person, like a caregiver or family member, the majority of cases reported – 48 percent in 2015 – included an allegation of self-neglect. A report of self-neglect might come from a friend, neighbor or family member concerned about a senior who doesn’t have enough food, isn’t getting the medical attention they need, or is living in substandard housing.
Studies have estimated that only about 1 in 23 cases of elder abuse are ever reported, so it’s difficult to tell whether an increasing number of reports means abuse is happening more often, or that there has been an increase in knowledge and awareness, said Diane Kaljian, Adult & Aging Services director for the Human Services Department. “There has been a lot of community education on what elder abuse is and that there is something that can be done about it,” said Kaljian. She said a more sophisticated public awareness of how an elderly loved one should be cared for – and what’s not right – has contributed to the rising number of reports.
Additionally, a growing population of older adults – at least one in four Sonoma County residents will be 60 or older by 2030 – and better training of staff at home care agencies, hospitals, banks and other community institutions should continue the upward trend.
“We provide our caregivers with specific training on how to detect and report elder abuse,” said Stanton Lawson, CFO of Sequoia Senior Solutions, which has an office in Oakmont. “They are all mandated reporters and are personally and legally responsible to report such abuse.” In addition to the training, Sequoia Senior Solutions caregivers are supervised by Care Managers, who coach them on how to detect and report abuse.
To ensure reputable outside care for a loved one, always seek caregivers through a licensed agency, said Kaljian. “If you’re going to hire an independent caregiver, you can have background check done, and always check references. So often people are so interested in getting the least expensive option that they forget to do checks like you would for any employee. This should be held to a higher standard.”
Lawson said that in the majority of abuse cases, the perpetrator is a family member of the victim. “Elder abuse often includes isolation of the abused, and that is one reason [our caregivers] seldom witness it. Those who abuse seniors are not likely to want someone from a professional agency around,” he said.
The practice of “really good advanced planning” should be a message for all of us, said Kaljian. “Lots of people don’t want to think about it, but we will get older and we need to think about what needs to be done then. It’s important to make arrangements so someone is not completely dependent on one person.”
For some, moving to an assisted living home might be the best option, but many seniors want to stay in their own home for as long as possible. In 2016, more than 27,000 seniors in Sonoma County were living alone at home. Luckily, in small communities like Kenwood, Glen Ellen and Oakmont, people know their neighbors and residents can more easily check in with each other and offer help and resources.
Kaljian encouraged anyone who had concerns to make a call. Calls to local elder abuse reporting hotlines can be made 24 hours a day, and can be confidential and anonymous. Call Sonoma County Adult Protective Services at 565-5940 or (800) 667-0404 to report concerns about elders living in homes or apartments in the community. For concerns about residents of skilled nursing and residential care facilities, call the Ombudsman at 526-4108 or (800) 231-4024. “We know it’s underreported,” said Kaljian. “It happens. People shouldn’t be ashamed.”
She also said some people fear that making a report could cost a senior their freedom, but that is never a goal. “We want to give people resources so they can live independently as long as they can.”
For more information about how to recognize and report elder abuse, visit socoelderprotect.org.
This month, a coalition known as the Sonoma County Elder Protection Work Group is offering a series of seminars on elder financial abuse around Sonoma County. On June 15, there will be a presentation at the Cloverdale Senior Center (311 North Main St.) at 1 p.m. and the Rohnert Park Senior Center (6800 Hunter Dr.) at 2 p.m. On June 16, the presentation will be held at the Windsor Senior Center (9231 Foxwood Dr.) at 1 p.m. and also the Sebastopol Area Senior Center (167 N. High St.) at 1 p.m.
Sarah Phelps is an editor and reporter. She was raised in Kenwood and has a BA from Loyola Marymount University.