Our View: New state law makes Elder Abuse Awareness Day brighter
Alabama has a special reason to observe Elder Abuse Awareness Day this year; our state Legislature this year passed a new law to extend and strengthen legal protections for all people aged 60 or older.

Abuse of the elderly comes in many forms — physical, psychological, sexual, financial — and in many cases, it occurs in a relationship where there is an expectation of trust. Exploitation and abuse of the elderly, whether intentional or unintentional, is heartbreaking.

It’s an internationally recognized problem. The United Nations has designated June 15 for the official observance.

Representatives from the Talladega County Department of Human Resources plan to be at the county courthouse in Talladega this morning and the courthouse annex in Sylacauga this afternoon to help raise awareness of the problem and the law.

County DHR director Nicole Parker said the elderly are often dependent on others for their care and become prime targets for abuse, neglect and exploitation.

“Sadly, victims are most often abused, neglected and exploited by individuals who are known and trusted by the elderly person,” she said.

DHR’s Adult Protective Services workers investigate reports of abuse and neglect, and when appropriate, arrange protection.

DHR also partners with over 30 agencies as members of the Alabama Council for the Prevention of Elder Abuse that works to raise awareness of elder abuse prevention. The Council recently helped pass criminal elder abuse and exploitation legislation that provides additional laws to help prosecute and penalize those who abuse the elderly.

In the last fiscal year in Alabama, more than 5,000 reports were of vulnerable adults were made under the old law. Nationwide, it is estimated more than a half million reports were made.

Previously, special protection in Alabama only applied if the victim was physically or mentally impaired. The new state law applies to everyone 60 or older.

State Attorney General Luther Strange calls Alabama’s new law “a strong weapon” to combat abuse and neglect of the elderly.

The new law clarifies what elder abuse is and makes it easier to prosecute. It increases the penalties for the most serious offenses. And it should help protect against financial exploitation, which is often complicated by family relationships and legal arrangements.

It’s a potential problem that will affect an increasing portion of the population. The 2010 Census found that more than 40 million Americans — 13 percent of the population — were 65 years old or older. That is projected to reach 20 percent of the population by 2050.

Awareness is just the first step toward increasing protection. The next step is to call for help. Reports of suspected elder abuse can be made confidentially to DHR at 1-800-458-7214 or by email at aps@dhr.alabama.gov.

We commend those who help protect those with limited ability to protect themselves, and we appreciate the legislators who saw the new law through to passage.

© 2013