'They can lose everything near and dear to them' | 1,038 elder abuse cases reported in Knox Co. in 2021 – WBIR.com

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Governor Bill Lee declared June 15 as Elder Abuse Awareness Day across Tennessee.
The Knox County District Attorney General, Charme Allen, said she is passionate about protecting seniors from elder abuse.
It is defined by the National Center on Elder Abuse as “intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or ‘trusted’ individual that leads to, or may lead to, harm of a vulnerable elder.” Studies say 1 out of every 10 people who are at least 60 years old will suffer from some type of exploitation.
Allen said her passion for protecting seniors started in 2016 when she attended a conference and learned about an elder abuse investigation unit out of California. That’s when everything changed in the vulnerable adult sector of Knox County.
Since launching the Vulnerable Adult Protection Investigative Team in 2016, Allen discovered just how prevalent these crimes are against seniors.
“Last year, just to give you some numbers here in Knox County, our team reviewed 1,038 cases of potential abuse on our elderly and vulnerable population,” Allen said. 
That number has increased every year. However, the District Attorney believes that could be just a fraction of the true number of cases. They believe only around 1 in every 14 cases of elder abuse gets reported. 
The complicated thing is that all of these cases look a bit different. 
“There are really three different buckets that you can put that abuse into, unfortunately. We look at a lot of financial abuse, which is actually the most prevalent abuse of our elderly population, then we also look at neglect. And, we also look at physical abuse,” Allen said.
The majority of elder abuse starts with financial abuse, where the senior is dependent on a family member or caretaker. The perpetrator may do things like cash social security, disability checks or steal necessary medications. This behavior can lead to some pretty devastating consequences over time. 
“The worst-case scenario is actually losing that person. I mean, them losing their life,” said Sasha Hammett, a program manager at the Community Action Committee’s Office on aging.
She has sifted through hundreds of cases and said she understands just how hard elder exploitation can be on a family.
“They could lose everything near and dear to them — whether it’s their home, their independence, the money that they had saved up so that they could take care of themselves for the rest of their lives, everything,” Hammett said, “Not to mention, the trauma, too; that it has on the individual and the family and the repercussions that can come from being a victim.”
Awareness of elder abuse has increased over the past few years in Knox County. That led to more cases piling up on the investigative unit’s desks.
“It is so common, we carry a caseload of around probably 15 new referrals a month, alone,” Hammett said.
Advocates said it’s worth it to protect our seniors. They’re the fastest-growing portion of the population and the most susceptible to exploitation. The DA and CAC’s Office on Aging want people to be aware of the preventative measures for Elder Abuse.
Hammett said to look for signs of isolation. The more isolated an individual is, the more vulnerable and likely they are to endure exploitation, she said. She also said to pay attention to their habits. 
She said people should keep an eye on whether they are paying bills on time, and whether any new kinds of behavior appear. 
The Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability said one in ten Americans aged 60 and older experiences abuse. Anyone who observes or suspects an instance of elder abuse can contact Adult Protective Services at 1-888-277-8366.
Authorities said they want East Tennesseans to work together and end elder abuse for good.
“These are our grandparents. These are our parents. These are the people that raised us and cared for us and loved us. And, we owe it to them to treat them with respect and dignity in their last years,” Allen said.
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