New River Valley conference raises awareness about elder abuse issues

It's the first conference of its type on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day


WYTHEVILLE, Va. – Elder abuse is a problem that affects about 14% of the aging population, more than 1 in 10 community members.

Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and a first of its kind conference in the New River Valley is working to give community members the tools they need to fight back. 

The multidisciplinary conference is being put on by a handful of groups, including the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology. Emily Hoyt, committee chair of the conference, says elder abuse is an issue that needs more attention, especially here in our area.

"A lot of older adults are very isolated," she says. "In Southwest Virginia, especially with it being so rural, a lot of time those rural adults find themselves being even more socially isolated, which can lead to further abuse as they're not having much contact with outside people."

Hoyt is not only the committee chair, but also the founder of the conference. As a recipient of the Austin Michelle Cloyd Odyssey Fellowship, created in honor of the student who lost her life on April 16, she's using the fellowship to continue working to tackle social justice.

She says elder abuse is a rarely discussed issue, but one she's working to shine a light on.

"We're trying to recognize that everybody can make a difference in the lives of an older adult," says Hoyt. "Even someone like a grocery store clerk can recognize and see that doesn't seem right here, they need to recognize those things."

Today's conference brings together about 150 community members from a wide array of disciplines, including education, law, social work, medicine and finance. For more on the conference, click here.

Here are some signs of elder abuse to watch out for, according to helpguide.org.

Physical abuse warning signs:

  • Unexplained signs of injury, such as bruises, welts, or scars, especially if they appear symmetrically on two sides of the body
  • Broken bones, sprains, or dislocations
  • Report of drug overdose or apparent failure to take medication regularly (a prescription has more remaining than it should)
  • Broken eyeglasses or frames
  • Signs of being restrained, such as rope marks on wrists
  • Caregiver's refusal to allow you to see the elder alone

Emotional abuse warning signs:

  • Threatening, belittling, or controlling caregiver behavior
  • Behavior from the elder that mimics dementia, such as rocking, sucking, or mumbling to themselves

Sexual abuse warning signs:

  • Bruises around breasts or genitals
  • Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing

Elder neglect or self-neglect warning signs:

  • Unusual weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration
  • Untreated physical problems, such as bed sores
  • Unsanitary living conditions: dirt, bugs, soiled bedding and clothes
  • Being left dirty or unbathed
  • Unsuitable clothing or covering for the weather
  • Unsafe living conditions (no heat or running water; faulty electrical wiring, other fire hazards)
  • Desertion of the elder at a public place

Financial exploitation warning signs:

  • Significant withdrawals from the elder's accounts
  • Sudden changes in the elder's financial condition
  • Items or cash missing from the senior's household
  • Suspicious changes in wills, power of attorney, titles, and policies
  • Addition of names to the senior's signature card
  • Financial activity the senior couldn't have done, such as an ATM withdrawal when the account holder is bedridden
  • Unnecessary services, goods, or subscriptions

Healthcare fraud or abuse warning signs

  • Duplicate billings for the same medical service or device
  • Evidence of overmedication or under-medication
  • Evidence of inadequate care when bills are paid in full
  • Problems with the care facility: poorly trained, poorly paid, or insufficient staff; crowding; inadequate responses to questions about care