The U.S. Administration on Aging estimates that as many as 2.1 million seniors in the United States are the victims of abuse, neglect and exploitation each year.
And that's only part of the picture: Experts believe that for every case of elder abuse or neglect reported, as many as five cases go unreported.
Governor Tom Corbett proclaimed June as Elder Abuse Awareness Month to help protect the health, safety, dignity and rights of older adults, in conjunction with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day today.
Bud Nolan, Protection Service supervisor for Experience, Inc. spoke of local problems saying, "Our statistics for Warren and Forest Counties are matching state averages. I believe the reporting of cases (locally) is under-reported, and I believe it is because it is a smaller community where people are afraid to talk about it. They are embarrassed, men in particular, to say this is happening to them. We have about 100 cases a year, and the two hardest hit categories are financial exploitation and self-neglect."
He said the different types of elder abuse include physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, caregiver and self-neglect, and abandonment.
Nolan emphasized, "We're not out to lock people up, we are here to insure the seniors' safety." He added that in one case reported by a hospital, a couple went to the emergency room and the problem was not that the husband was intentional harming his wife, but that he couldn't even take care of himself.
Caregiver neglect can come about for a number of reasons. It can be intentional or unintentional, based on factors such as ignorance or denial that an elderly charge needs as much care as he or she does, or even "burn out" when the job becomes more than the caregiver can handle.
To notice the signs of possible abuse and neglect he said, "There are a lot of things to look for, physical trauma like bruises, cuts or burns; changes in personality where a normally outgoing person becomes withdrawn; changes in a household where a normally neat appearance and regularly mown lawns become messy and unkempt and when someone talks of missing finances and there's not enough money to pay the bills."
"Anyone making a good faith report to us can not be held liable for the report if it turns out to be untrue, and the reporter can also remain anonymous."
Nolan believes the awareness promotion will help individuals and agencies like police and hospitals recognize signs and report possible cases. He said it is estimated to be a 12 billion dollar problem.
He said the state is now pushing prevention and protection for issues instead of being reactive.
To report suspected abuse or neglect, call 1-800-281-6545 twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.