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Colorado’s Focus on Elder Abuse

My summer practicum at the Colorado Health Institute represents the best of two worlds for me. I get to work on projects that will benefit the state that I love while focusing on a topic that I am passionate about.

When my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease I played an active role in her care, even after she moved into a nursing facility.  As I visited her every day, I was able to see how immensely vulnerable our seniors are, especially those with dementia. This drove my undergraduate research, which focused on legal advocacy for people with dementia in nursing homes and their access to long term care ombudsman programs.

My research fueled an interest in elder abuse, which I have been able to pursue in my master’s work.  Ensuring that our grandparents, parents and friends are able to live dignified, healthy lives is of upmost importance to me.

That’s why I am interested in a new law in Colorado that continues efforts to combat elder abuse. Senate Bill 13-111, signed into law May 16 by Governor Hickenlooper, goes into effect on July 1, 2014. It requires certain professionals to report abuse or exploitation of at-risk elders to local law enforcement within 24 hours. The law requires reporting if someone sees abuse, exploitation or self- neglect or has reasonable cause to believe that it has occurred or may occur.

Failure to report is a class 3 misdemeanor.

Colorado has added banking and financial personnel to the list of people required to report abuse. This clause allows for a very concrete form of abuse – financial abuse - to be identified and reported.  Additional reporters include: court-appointed guardians and conservators, hospital and long term care facility personnel, health care professionals, clergy members, and emergency service personnel such as firefighters, paramedics and police officers.

This expansive list aims to ensure that more cases of elder abuse come to the attention of county services.

The bill appropriates $3 million for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2013, to reduce worker caseloads and to provide training and quality assurance activities in adult assistance programs. This will help to fund adult protective services, including the long term care ombudsman program.

The prevalence of elder abuse is heartbreaking. Between seven and ten percent of older adults are abused each year, estimates the National Center on Elder Abuse. And that’s most likely an under-estimate. The New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study estimated that for every known case there are 24 unknown cases.

And those with disabilities and dementia are at increased risk.  A 2000 study found that nearly half of 2,000 nursing home residents interviewed had been abused and 95% reported being neglected or seeing someone else being neglected.

The health impact of abuse is extreme. Seniors who have been abused are three times more likely to die than those who haven’t been abused.  The hospitalization rate for abused seniors is between 2 and 2.6 times higher, depending on the type of abuse, according to a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In Colorado, 11,000 reports of elder abuse were filled in fiscal year 2011-12, with 43 percent requiring an investigation.

Reports of abuse are expected to increase by 15% a year, according to the Colorado Elder Abuse Task Force. 

Meanwhile, Saturday is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. A number of events are planned to mark this day in Colorado. For information about events in your community, click here