Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Elder abuse: A community issue in Maine

By Kathryn Skelton , Staff Writer Sunday, April 8, 2007

Maybe there were signs, in hindsight.

James Michael Peters often raised his voice and yelled at his mother during "tantrums," so loud neighbors could hear. Margaret Peters had become increasingly reliant on her son and he'd started refusing to take her places or pick her up, according to her brother.

Experts say signs of elderly abuse can range from pushing and hitting to giving the wrong medication or neglect.

Maine has five elder abuse task forces; the newest formed in Androscoggin County in late 2006.

Lowell sits on it, as do representatives from Lewiston and Auburn police, both cities' housing authorities, Androscoggin Home Care and Hospice, Abused Women's Advocacy Program and others.

That broad interest speaks to it becoming a community issue, said Karen Elliott, director of the adult protective services program at the Department of Health and Human Services.

From July 2005 to June 2006, their elder abuse hotline took 12,000 calls. At the start of this year, the hotline was on pace to receive 16,000, a substantial jump.

Elliott said a "great number" of calls turn out to be people concerned someone is letting themselves go, or self-neglect. When another person is involved in the abuse, it's more often a family member or caregiver.

In Androscoggin County, 172 complaints were investigated last year. There are 25 open investigations right now, DHHS spokesman John Martins said.

Groups across Maine will plan events around Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, Elliot said.

"When situations like this happen, that's when the news comes out and that's when we talk about it. We also need to spend time talking when there isn't a hot issue."

Maine elder abuse hotline 1-800-624-8404
Maine mental health hotline 1-888-568-1112
National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine helpline (for questions, referrals, general information) 1-800-464-5767

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