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Safeguarding the Elderly

By News & Observer

March 25, 2008

Time conspires against the elderly in the form of physical weakness and mental decline. But occasionally, also conspiring are those asked by an elderly person to look after their affairs. It's usually a family member or close friend. They may empty an elderly person's bank account or abuse or neglect them. For a host of reasons -- perhaps the older person's unwillingness to prosecute a family member, fear of retaliation, reluctance to admit being scammed -- suspected crimes against the elderly often are not pursued.
The problem is of particular concern in North Carolina. The state is projected to grow from 8 million to more than 12 million people by 2030, which means a natural growth in the number of elderly, especially with retirees flocking here. North Carolina has little time to lose in strengthening its laws to prevent older people from being hurt and to find and punish caretakers who cross the line. 

Fortunately, the American Bar Association recently passed a resolution offering a road map that legislators should find useful. 

The ABA starts by saying that prosecutors should vigorously pursue financial exploitation and abuse and neglect cases. It's true that crimes against the elderly may not be easy to prosecute, and not just because older people may be afraid or embarrassed to press charges, or have difficulty testifying. Financial crimes are hard to untangle, and local prosecutors often don't have the staff or expertise to secure convictions. 

To help, the ABA recommends that special elder abuse units be established within prosecutors' offices. Police, social workers and others need training to spot and address this form of abuse. And laws against elder crimes need to be reviewed and updated. 

The elderly are a rising tide. North Carolina cannot allow itself to be swamped by their abuse and exploitation.

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