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Elder Abuse High In Area Counties

Nov 13, 2003 | Pekin Daily Times

Elder abuse is something many people don't like to talk about, according to the head of a local program aimed at curbing what she called "society's secret."

"No one talks much about elder abuse. It's kept hidden behind drawn curtains," said Joyce DeRenzy, director of SeniorStrength at the Center for Prevention of Abuse in Peoria. "It happens in all communities, among all races and socio-economic groups. It even happens in 'nice families.'"

DeRenzy said the Peoria area has among the highest rate of reported elder abuse cases in the state. The office handled more than 600 cases last year, "so we're busy," she said.

Her office covers Peoria, Tazewell, Fulton, Marshall, Stark and Woodford counties.

Elder abuse is often referred to as a "family affair," because 80 percent of the abuse is at the hands of a spouse or relative.

Much of the abuse is neither criminal nor

violent, and some is unintentional because of the caregiver's lack of knowledge, she said. Eighty percent of the time the caregiver is an adult child, she said.

"Family dynamics run very, very deep," she continued. "There could have been years of dysfunction, and we know that that elder doesn't want to do anything to get a family member in trouble. We will take as many approaches as there are, and obviously every case is different."

DeRenzy said as she makes presentations, she often sees peoples' eyes "glaze over and their blinders come on. They think, 'Not in my family, and not in my neighborhood.'"

Based on studies, experts believe that for every case of abuse reported probably 13 are not, DeRenzy said. "The numbers are staggering. There has been so little research that no one knows the scope of it."

Statewide, financial abuse is No. 1. "The allegations don't stand alone," she said. "If I get a report that someone is being financially exploited, chances are they are also being emotional exploited."

Some cases are passive neglect, which is not always intentional, she said. In one common scenario, the wife starts aging or is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, and her husband tries to take care of her, but he does not have the skills.

Probably the No. 1 emotional abuse used as leverage is threats, DeRenzy said: "'If you don't do what I ask you to do, then I'm going to put you in a nursing home.'" That is probably one of the strongest emotional abusive things that we see, she said.

"We want to alleviate the abuse. Not all abuse is intentional," she said. "Sometimes the caregiver is just burned out. "In that case, we want to say to the caregiver, 'Gee, did you know there are respite services? We can help get a respite service for you.'"

In addition to the types of abuse mentioned above, there are physical, sexual and emotional abuse, confinement, willful deprivation and financial exploitation, the last
being the most commonly reported.

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