Either a lot more older adults are being abused in some form in Allegheny County, or a lot more people are simply aware such cases should be reported and are taking action.
One of those scenarios is clearly less bad than the other, but the true cause for a sharp spike in reported abuse cases isn’t clear yet.
The numbers are in any case startling, as presented by Kurt Emmerling, assistant deputy administrator for the county’s Area Agency on Aging, to a AAA advisory committee at its public meeting Tuesday.
Mr. Emmerling said the agency during the 2015-16 fiscal year received 3,858 “reports of need” — the technical term for an allegation of abuse or neglect received by the AAA protective services staff concerning a victim age 60 or older. Just two years earlier, the staff received 1,701 such reports, meaning they more than doubled within two years.
Though the term “abuse” is most often construed to suggest physical harm, the reports also cover possible problems such as financial exploitation, abandonment and even self-neglect — meaning a person no longer functioning well enough to take care of themselves safely, even if no one else is causing them injury.
Not all allegations of such abuse are determined to be valid, though Mr. Emmerling had no figures to present Wednesday about that. He described abuse as a growing and serious problem that the AAA is trying to address through its caseworkers who investigate cases with the help of nurses, psychologists, a financial exploitation consultant and others.
In presenting a slide of one person’s blackened foot wounds, representing pressure sores from lack of proper care at home, Mr. Emmerling advised solemnly, “I would like to tell you this is an uncommon scene — it is not.”
Most elder abuse, however, is not reported to authorities, Mr. Emmerling noted, and he said estimates are that one of every 10 Americans 60 and older will experience it in some form.
Suspicions of such harm may be reported anonymously to any Area Aging on Aging. In Allegheny County, that can be done by phone call to 412-350-6905 or by using the AAA’s online reporting system.
Gary Rotstein: email@example.com or 412-263-1255.