Elder abuse growing problem

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It's a problem on the rise and experts warn that we'll see more cases of elder abuse in the years ahead, but bringing these cases to light may not be so easy.

Those who help victims of elder abuse call it the invisible problem, one that thousands of adults face each year, often behind closed doors.

"We know the problem exists. The studies show that less than 1 in 5 adults report abuse and it's probably a lot higher than that," said Dr. Paula Kupstas, Project Director for the Elder Abuse Grant Programs. "It might be physical abuse where there are scratches or bruises or cuts. There could be a fracture, the person could even be dressed inappropriately."

Experts say one of the most difficult aspects of elder abuse or neglect is that so often the victim is close to the person doing it.

"It may be a family member or a caregiver or someone that is in a position of trust with them," said Kupstas.

It's a situation that makes it difficult for the victim to ask authorities for help.

"They don't want to report a child and get them in trouble, perhaps go to jail. They don't want to air their dirty laundry," said Kupstas.

And because of that, many stay in unsafe or unhealthy situations.

"If an older adult doesn't feel safe in their own home, and doesn't feel that they are able to seek help for that, that is a huge problem," said Kupstas.

This issue has a lot of people talking after a case out of Richmond we followed this week, an elderly woman who died from sepsis on her living room couch. That case ended with a "not guilty" verdict, but highlights what could happen with an aging population.

Authorities in Richmond and several surrounding counties have benefited from training on how to spot and stop elder abuse. This, thanks to a more than four year grant. Prosecutors and investigators on the Richmond case were on that list.

Information on the statewide adult protective services hotline:

Virginia Easy Access, an online resource and partnership of Virginia 2-1-1, the Commonwealth and VirginiaNavigator.

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