Elder abuse is unspoken epidemic in US

HOUGHTON – People who attended a Thursday workshop at the Portage Lake District Library learned the signs of elder abuse at a free seminar held by the Upper Peninsula Commission on Area Progress.

Knowing how to properly treat vulnerable adults and the issues they face can empower us to help remedy potential problems before they worsen, said UPCAP Program Coordinator Cheryl Goc.

“We can report it” but don’t have to prove suspicions of abuse, Goc said. “It’s not up to us to determine. There are other people out there who have been trained for that.”

Goc touched on her own and other people’s stories highlighting common abuse, neglect and exploitation issues.

A Madison, Wisconsin, woman visits her father who is a hoarder. Even though she’s reluctant to leave without trying to sort out the mess, he convinces her to return to the city. No sooner than she gets back, he’s not answering the phone, so she drives back to his house and finds him on the floor.

“Because of the hazardous conditions he lived in he’d fallen and hurt his ankle,” Goc said. “He didn’t want her to call anyone but she couldn’t get him up.”

When her dad was recuperating in a nursing home, the daughter started going through mounds of paper and finds her dad wrote two $11,200 checks to Texas oil fields as a result of a phone scam.

“Someone called him on the phone, and he bought it hook, line and sinker,” Goc said. “There’s not a lot that can be done because he’s got a right to live that way.

“Who are the gatekeepers in this story?” she asked, noting so many could have notified police of problems this man was experiencing, including his daughter, neighbors and medical and bank staff. Any one of them could have reported their observations, and if they all had, the man may have been helped before the problems multiplied.

Goc said one way to address the issue is to enhance laws to provide more protections for elderly people.

“If you bug Lansing enough, I would hope someone’s going to pay attention,” she said.