NANTICOKE — State Secretary of Aging Brian Duke brought his own agenda to a forum at Luzerne County Community College on Thursday, but he quickly adapted to the topic of the day — elder abuse.
“We have to protect our older citizens from abuse, neglect and abandonment,” Duke said. “Gov. Corbett’s budget is solid in support of senior programs, providing a significant increase in our allocation.”
Duke was the guest speaker at the forum that featured a panel of experts, including Trula Hollywood, the executive director of Luzerne-Wyoming Area Agency on Aging; Brian McAdarra, supervisor of Adult Protective Services; and Denise Corcoran, executive director of Anthracite Region Center for Independent Living.
The panel discussed the importance of recognizing and reporting abuse of those who are elderly and disabled. Incidents have been on the rise and prosecutions have as well, Hollywood and Duke said.
The event was sponsored by the Luzerne-Wyoming Link to Aging and Disability Resources and about 75 social service, law enforcement and government officials attended.
Duke said elder abuse doesn’t just occur in facilities; he said it is also common in the home. He said the area that has seen significant increase in abuse is financial exploitation.
“Neglect is still the number one issue,” he said. “And we are increasing our work with law enforcement. We are also concentrating on scams, family fraud and other exploitation.”
Duke said the message should be loud and clear to the public to make reports in situations where elder abuse of any type is suspected.
“You can’t be shy or embarrassed,” he said. “We believe in protective services for seniors. We must enhance the lives of older Pennsylvanians.”
With all of the effort on elder abuse, Duke said the number of cases being reported is growing. He credited the increase to more citizens reporting their suspicions.
“Elder exploitation makes up about 16 percent of all of our cases,” he said. “And these are serious concerns that are complex and difficult to investigate. And it is very hard to prove or disprove the allegations.”
The forum offered several tools to help people identify elder abuse, including checking for financial abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and medication abuse.
The Department of Aging lists several signs that may not always mean elder abuse, but are important to be aware of because elder abuse can occur at anytime to anyone. They are:
• Bruises or broken bones.
• Weight loss.
• Dementia may be blamed on “old age” when the real cause is malnutrition or drug interactions or side effects.
• The older person never goes outside or never sees visitors.
• Withdrawing large sums of money from a savings account without apparent reason.
• Signing over his or her home to a relative.
Hollywood advised people to listen to seniors and “intervene when you suspect” elder abuse is occurring.
“And educate others,” she said. “And know how to recognize and report elder abuse.”
Duke said Corbett’s budget has three main priorities: jobs, education and improving the health of and wellness of all Pennsylvanians.
“The governor wants to improve access to quality health care,” he said. “In this department’s 35 year history, this marks our largest investment ever.”
Duke said the $29.4 billion budget proposed by the governor addresses the state’s health care needs.
Pennsylvania is the country’s fourth grayest state, he said. Between 2010 and 2030, there will be 1 million people 60 and older living here. He said AARP recently reported that Pennsylvania is one of five states where the residents stay and don’t move away.
“We’re getting very close to one in four over the age of 60 in Pennsylvania,” Duke said.
The secretary noted that 78 percent of senior funding comes from the Pennsylvania lottery, with the rest coming from the federal government and various grants.
“I realize there are varying opinions on gambling,” he said. “But the lottery is a growing and dependable funding source.
“The governor’s budget goes above and beyond for seniors and programs for seniors,” he said.
Duke said his department is also focused on Alzheimer’s Disease.
“I’m sure this touches the lives of every Pennsylvanian,” he said. “We are working on a seven-point program that will be implemented simultaneously, not in steps.”
He said the report contains seven recommendations that were designed to address awareness, private and public partnerships, brain health, care and early diagnosis, family and caregiver support, health care delivery and workforce and research.