Just the Facts

Event raises awareness of elder abuse

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Deena Bouknight

Abuse of children and spouses is often in the news, but elder abuse is less discussed and publicized. Yet, one in 10 adults over the age of 60 experiences physical, emotional, financial, and sexual abuse, and/or neglect and abandonment, according to the National Institute on Aging. 

At a special event on June 17 at the Franklin gazebo, just a few days past World Elder Abuse Awareness Day June 15, about 70 people gathered to hear speakers share information focused on this ongoing issue that “unfortunately happens in Macon County,” according to Jennifer Hollifield, Crawford Senior Center director. She helped oversee the 12th Annual Elder Abuse Awareness Walk, which included short presentations by Hollifield, Macon County Board of Commissioners Chair Gary Shields, Congressman Chuck Edwards’s Field Representative Lake Silver, Town of Franklin Mayor Jack Horton, and Macon County’s Senior Tar Heel Representative Pat Hedrick.  

AMONG THOSE attending a June 17 event to raise awareness about elder abuse were (L-R) Town Manager Amie Owens, Senior Center Director Jennifer Hollifield, Franklin Mayor Jack Horton, and County Commissioner Chair Gary Shields.

The June 17 event enabled attendees to pick up literature providing facts and solutions about elder abuse. People, like Sarajane Melton, Southwestern Commission Area Agency on Aging’s regional area director for seven Southwestern counties, were also on hand to answer questions. She explained, “The reality is that it happens mostly in homes by family members. So, by raising awareness, people can know what to do if they suspect there is elder abuse happening.” 

“We need to always support senior citizens,” said Shields, speaking to attendees from the gazebo stage. “We need to always be there for them, to care for them and support them. We never want to send a message to seniors that no one cares. So, if you walk into a place or a home and you believe there is a lack of food, that the person isn’t safe, that there is not adequate healthcare … you need to right away let someone know. They deserve a good quality of life, and we have people here today and people in Macon County who truly have a heart for seniors.”

Hollifield shared a statistic from the N.C. governor’s office that in 2022-23 35,400 reports of elder abuse were made to social services offices throughout the state. “And those are just the ones reported,” she said.

Horton also spoke, first offering the quip: “I’m a seasoned citizen.” However, he followed the remark by acknowledging the positive benefits that many seniors experience from dedicated employees who work at senior centers and senior homes. 

“My mother-in-law [98 years old] has lived with us for 18 years and she is so sweet,” said Horton. “I know for a fact that they think about our wellbeing and we need to think about theirs. We need to be on the lookout for any abuse that might be happening.” 

After the few presentations on the subject of elder abuse, attendees carried informative signs as they took a short walk on Main Street and then helped themselves to free baked goods offered by Renee’s Cake Shoppe, and lemonade from Companion Health Care. The event was hosted by Crawford Senior Center, Macon County Department of Social Services, and the Southwestern Commission Area Agency on Aging.

What to look for

Since elder abuse is an ongoing issue, Hollifield and other individuals at the June 17 event explained that reports can be made by calling 911 or local law enforcement, the Macon County Department of Social Services, or the Eldercare Locator number at (800) 677-1116. 

Indicators that an elderly person may be abused include physical marks, emotional or financial changes, neglected living conditions, poor hygiene, evidence of food insecurity, and more. 

Additionally, the National Institute on Aging lists the following as other signs that an elderly person might be abused. They:

– become withdrawn or act agitated or violent;

– display signs of trauma such as rocking back and forth; and,

– develop preventable conditions such as bedsores (open sores that can develop when a person stays in one position for a long time, such as being confined to a bed).

For more information about elder abuse and how to prevent and report it, call the Southwestern Commission Area Agency on Aging at (828) 586-1962, or visit https://regiona.org/aaa-2.