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Health Fair event focuses on elder abuse prevention

June 6, 2018
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Individuals are encouraged to wear purple on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15, to bring awareness, as well as attend a special fair at the Lehigh Senior Center to learn more of how they can help a few days prior.

Lehigh Acres Senior Center Manager Melissa Berry said they are holding a Mini Health Fair from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Friday, June 8. The center is located at 219 Plaza Drive.

The health fair will feature such businesses as Frans Eye Care providing free eye exams, Lehigh Acres Place, Legal Shield and Fountain Crest Retirement Community.

Sherry Young, AAASWFL Elder Abuse Prevention Coordinator, said they are still recruiting people for the fair, which will also include vision screening, hearing tests and a neurological group that focuses on Alzheimer's.

"A lot of it will be geared around the seniors and elder abuse prevention," Berry said. "With it being World Elder Abuse Day, the whole purpose is to bring a mini health fair to teach about what their health is and learn how to prevent elder abuse. There are so many different ways seniors are being abused - physically, emotionally and financially. There will be different places and groups here in order to be able to look at the different ways to be able to prevent it."

During the first hour of the mini health fair, individuals will have the opportunity to partake in a line dance class.

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"I am excited about this. The vendors that are coming in, they get to interact with the people in the line dancing class. It's a huge class," Berry said.

Other classes taking place during the fair will include Spanish and stain glass classes.

Young said World Elder Abuse Awareness Day began to recognize the different types of abuse that occur, as well as making individuals aware, so folks will not only prevent abuse from taking place, but also report neglect, self-neglect and financial exploitation.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15, began in 2006 to recognize the significance of elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue.

"We have seven counties that we serve in Southwest Florida for our agency," Young said. "I try to take a week and a half in the middle of June to do events all over."

"In the state of Florida we are mandatory reporters. We let people know under Florida Statue. We are mandated to report any suspected cases of abuse, neglect or exploitation," Young said. "You never have to have proof. It's up to adult protection services to handle when they do their investigation."

In terms of awareness, Young said there are many warning signs one can look for when abuse is taking place, such as bruising, cuts and injuries that cannot be easily explained. Furthermore one can look for such signs as an elder suddenly becoming withdrawn, depressed and very isolated.

"That's usually because the abuser is trying to keep them isolated," Young said.

As far as neglect, such signs as dehydration, malnutrition, soiled bedding and clothing, as well as the lack of utilities and water.

Young said individuals should pay attention to any changes in someone's behavior and demeanor when in the presence of the person abusing them. She said the person can become very withdrawn and quiet, non-responsive, afraid to talk openly, confused, disoriented, agitated and fearful.

The problem of elder abuse occurs everywhere, but unfortunately Young said we see it more because so many people retire to Florida. She said there are a lot of older folks that live alone after moving to Florida with their spouse who has since passed away.

"An older adult living alone becomes more fragile and it puts them at risk and makes them more vulnerable," Young said, adding that they might not have someone checking on them on a regular basis.

Abuse, she said, can go undetected for quite some time in this scenario.

Self-neglect is among the highest cases of abuse reported. Although it is hard to determine an active number, Young said one out of 14 cases is reported because the victim is afraid to report the abuse due to fear of the repercussions.

During 2016-2017, Young said there was just under 58,000 cases of abuse, neglect and exploitation. She said with only one out of 14 acts of abuse being reported, you can only imagine how many more cases there would be.

Ninety-percent of the time the abusers are the family members.

"There is a little over 6 million adults over the age of 60" living in Florida, Young said. "That number keeps growing because people are living longer, more people retiring."

Berry said they have more than 800 members at the Lehigh Acres Senior Center and more than 200 volunteers.

"When it comes to the Senior Center itself, I have a lot of people trying to be active and keep their minds active," she said. "We have a lot of people come in and that is what their life is, coming to the Senior Center. It's a family here."

Berry said it was a no-brainer when Young asked her to hold an event because she wants to get the word out that there is help if needed.

"We have a lot of seniors that are being neglected. Families taking advantage of them financially. Biggest neglect is self neglect," she said. "When you know what to look for you are able to protect kids. Same for seniors. When you know what to look for you can help those seniors."

Young said it is important for people to call 800-96 ABUSE, which can be used 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

"Once they talk to the counselor on the phone to give their report it goes to an investigator within 24 hours. Callers should provide as much detail as possible to help the investigation. They don't have to have absolute proof that there is abuse," Young said.

The caller remains anonymous.

She said it is also important to call 911 if the individual believes the elder is in immediate danger, or harm.

"They are still going to want to make that report to the abuse hotline, but services can be put into place to help the victim. They will get those steps in motion and make it safe for the victim," Young said.



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