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ADULT ABUSE: How to recognize the signs even if you’re not seeing loved ones over the holidays

Published: Nov. 25, 2020 at 8:53 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - More than 12,000 cases of adult abuse in Missouri were reported online in the last year. Experts worry many more are going unnoticed because of the pandemic.

“They have worked hard. They have fought for things for us. They have contributed,” said Attorney Lori Rook.

Rook said the elderly are precious and need to be protected. That’s why she fights for those who become victims to adult abuse.

“It can be financial, it can be physical, it can be mental, it can be sexual,” she said.

In the last several months, the adult abuse calls to Rook’s office at Ozarks Elder Law have been few and far between.

“The ones we are getting are more disturbing than ever,” she said.

Rook said she normally sees financial exploitation lawsuits through her office, but this year, allegations of physical abuse against the elderly have been concerning.

Jessica Bax, is the Director of Division of Senior & Disability Services with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. She said many cases involve neglect.

“So that’s when someone has a regular caretaker who is not meeting their daily needs,” she said.

Many abuse reports typically come right after the holidays, after families have visited their parents or grandparents at home or in assisted living facilities.

“This holiday is different, just like this entire year has been different in that many of us are not able to see the older adults in our life as much,” Bax said.

In the spring of 2019, only 40% of calls to the adult abuse hotline were answered. By December 2019, that rate was 77%. Now, it is still nearly 80%.

“The calls that are maybe not being answered are because people are using the online option. They hear the message when they’re on hold that they can make an online report and they do that,” Bax said.

Bax said the hotline has been freed up since the state added a website portal for adult abuse concerns. More than 1,000 cases have been reported online every month in the last year. Overall, though, the reports to the state have dropped by about 7%.

Bax said the signs can vary.

“Do they seem withdrawn? Have you noticed a new person in their life you’re not familiar with?”she said.

Rook said look for changing sleep patterns, decreased mental or physical well-being, confusion, changes to bank accounts. She encourages people to be proactive, even if you can’t see your loved ones in person.

“Calling every day, calling multiple times a day, asking detailed questions. Have you eaten today? Have you gotten dressed today? What have you done today? Just trying to get an idea of what that day has looked like for that person,” she said.

For family members not living close to their parents or grandparents, Rook recommends finding a neighbor or other trusted person to watch out for the elderly.

Rook fears an influx of abuse cases when COVID-19 concerns eventually pass. She hopes it won’t be too late to hold those responsible accountable for taking advantage of a precious, vulnerable part of our community.

“I think we owe it to them. We owe it to them to watch out for them and protect them,” Rook said.

If you’re concerned someone you know might be a victim of adult abuse, go to health.mo.gov/abuse.

Bax said DHSS can also provide resources and help for people struggling. If an adult or elder you know seems to be declining in physical or mental health, that’s another reason to contact the department.

Mandated reporters can report suspected cases to the Abuse and Neglect Hotline, 1-800-392-0210.

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