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The growing issue of elder abuse in WNC

The senior citizen population is growing in Western North Carolina, and with that increase comes the increasing potential for abuse, exploitation, or neglect of the elderly.

The number of aging baby boomers in the region can explain some of the growth in the number of senior citizens. The region is also a destination of choice for retirees. Census data shows that the western part of the state has more persons over 65 than the state average, and the number will only continue to grow.

In 1997, 12 percent of the population in North Carolina was older adults, and the projection for 2020 is that the number will grow to 18 percent. To contrast, the 2000 Census states that persons over 65 make up 19.6 percent of Haywood County, 13.9 percent of Jackson County, 22.8 percet of Macon County and 16.7 percent of Swain County.

In a recent survey of professionals who work with the elderly in the seven western counties, 72 percent suspect that abuse is going on in their communities and 91 percent believe that elder abuse goes underreported.

In 2007, the 30th Judicial District Alliance for Domestic Violence-Sexual Assault began a program to promote awareness of elder abuse issues called Elder SAFE.

“Our Western North Carolina communities are aging,” said Sybil Mann, the executive director of the Alliance. “Baby boomers are growing older and retiring and new retirees are moving into our area. More young people are relocating away from the mountains for employment, so we are seeing a shift in our population demographics. Persons over the age of 65 are our fastest growing group.

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“Sadly, elder abuse and financial exploitation are on the rise as well — but we are helping only a small fraction of these crime victims. The Alliance of domestic violence programs saw the need to partner with elder services providers to increase community awareness of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation and how we can respond effectively.”

According to figures from the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), neglect is the most common form of elder mistreatment, followed by physical abuse, then by financial exploitation. Elder abuse remains largely hidden because seniors resist help or are physically isolated and cannot obtain help.

According to the NCEA, adult children are the most frequent abusers of the elderly in domestic settings, and spouses are the second most frequent abusers. Because family members are often the perpetrators of abuse, this only heightens the fear and shame of seniors and complicates the process of asking for and receiving help.

(This article was prepared by Michael Rich, project coordinator of Elder SAFE, a project of the 30th Judicial Alliance Against Domestic Violence-Sexual Assault serving the seven western counties of North Carolina. He can be reached at 828.452.2122 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Some signs of abuse:

• Bruises, welts or marks lacking good explanation

• Frequent or inconsistently explained falls, injuries

• Housing in disrepair or unsafe living conditions

• Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts

• Radical change in elder’s behavior

• Hesitance to talk openly, especially around abuser

Call Adult Protective Services in your county if you suspect that an elderly person is being abused:

• Haywood County: 828.452.6620

• Jackson County: 828.586.5546

• Macon County: 828.349.2124

• Swain County: 828.488.6921

For more information or additional support, contact Elder SAFE at 1.866.496.5406.

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