In 2014, the Orange County Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Registry received more than 9,000 reports of adult abuse in Orange County. That’s a 74 percent increase in the past 10 years; from 2013 to 2014 alone, the calls increased 13.5 percent.
Adult Protective Services reports that 75 percent of those calls were for seniors 65 and older. Experts believe more go unreported.
Elderly victims often are afraid to report abusers because they are family members, according to officials with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Frequently they’re financially dependent on them.
Shelter options are scarce here for those over 65 who live in dangerous situations.
On March 1, a committee made up of county agencies launched the Elder Shelter network. In the pilot program, which is the first of its kind in California, agencies such as the Silverado group, a nationwide, long-term care agency, and the be group reserve beds in their housing facilities for older victims who need to be moved.
The agencies in the network have donated a limited number of beds in their buildings for these cases and will have trained staff to care for those individuals.
The Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Registry’s reports of abuse against people 65 and older range from neglect to financial coercion, to emotional abuse, verbal assaults and physical attacks.
Abusers are usually family members, law enforcement agencies say. They often face criminal consequences, and have their sentences bumped up because of the age of the abused. But victims are left without caregivers and safe living conditions.
“I get elder abuse cases where we’ve got an adult child harming the elder in some way. We get a good case, we’re going to take it to trial and the family recants everything,” said Robert Thompson, an Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigator who handles elder abuse cases.
“They live with them and don’t want their son or their daughter getting in any trouble. So sometimes they’ll just say it didn’t happen.”
Sometimes both the abused and their abuser are mentally incapacitated and need to be separated.
“One couple in their 70s … the woman had beaten him for a couple of days and when we got the call for a welfare check, he was still sitting on the chair where she had beaten him,” recalled Sgt. Sam Hernandez, who leads the domestic violence detail at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. “He almost died. She had beat him so bad but she didn’t know what she was doing.”
In an emergency, abused elders are typically sent to hospitals while authorities try to track down family members or acquaintances. Conventional shelters, like those for abused women with children, usually won’t turn away an older person in need. But they often don’t have the services needed by older people, especially those with medical conditions.
Stacey Lindberg, program manager at Adult Protective Services of Orange County, said shelter network will be especially helpful to those victims with mental deficiencies.
“All of these facilities that we are using have memory care units that specialize in cognitive disabilities,” she said.
Even when there are shelter options, they don’t always fit.
According to the U.S. Census 2013 estimate, about 12.8 percent of Orange County’s population was 65 and older. In 2010, it was 11.6 percent.
By 2050, seniors are expected to comprise 20 percent of the total U.S. population.
“In Orange County our aging demographics are outpacing the state,” said Lisa Gibbs, a clinical professor and chief of geriatrics and gerontology at the UC Irvine School of Medicine and a specialist at the Elder Abuse Forensic Center, which is made up of law enforcement, medical, educational and justice agencies.
According to the center, slightly more than a quarter of the county’s seniors have a disability.
For seniors, the challenges of reporting an abuser are magnified if it’s someone they depend on. Turning them in can mean having to start over late in life.