Elderly abuse rising in Oklahoma

Friday, January 4th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Elderly abuse is on the rise in Oklahoma, where reports of the elderly being mistreated, neglected or exploited increased 11 percent last year.

Adult Protective Services investigated 14,046 cases in 2001, state officials said Thursday. During the past decade, alleged instances of mistreatment against seniors have increased 123 percent.

A rapidly aging population and a selfish what's-in-it-for-me mentality by relatives and friends has contributed to the escalating eldercare problem, officials said. One-third of offenders are the children or close relatives of the victims.

``Too many adult children look at their aging parents as a liability and as an impediment to their future inheritance,'' said Barbara Kidder, programs manager for Adult Protective Services.

But some abuse cases involve self-neglect, abandonment or loneliness, Kidder said.

``Elderly Oklahomans who have untreated mental illness and developing dementia often make unwise choices,'' she said. ``And many older people on a fixed income make a conscious decision to pay for things such as their heating bill instead of buying food or medications.''

Data released Thursday do not include cases of abuse involving nursing home residents.

Oklahoma has 483,000 residents age 65 and older. That figure is expected to increase to 887,000 by 2025, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Kidder and state Department of Human Services field administrator Judith Atkinson said offenses against elderly Oklahomans range from baths given in scalding-hot water to the substitution of cheaper drugs for various ailments, with relatives pocketing the difference.

Many older Oklahomans are living alone without the assistance of nearby relatives or friends.

``There's not a support system of people who can recognize what's going wrong in an older person's daily living,'' Atkinson said.

In addition, many rural seniors are without transportation to take them to vital medical and social services.

Warning signs of abuse and neglect among the senior population, Kidder said, include untreated injuries, weight loss, sudden changes in personal habits, mental lapses, confusion, hoarding tendencies and large numbers of unpaid or overdue bills.