Recent reports show that elder abuse is on the rise in Utah, with some sources saying cases are up 40% over the past five years. But there’s also some question as to what elder abuse actually is.
“In Utah, elder abuse is defined as abuse, neglect or exploitation of...anybody over the age of 18 that is not able to care for themselves in society," said Debbie Booth, an Information Specialist with Utah’s Adult Protective Services. "The victim, a lot of times, can be incapacitated and it can make them unable to care for themselves."
Booth also said that in Utah, government departments that deal with elderly abuse are extremely understaffed, and it's just getting more difficult.
"In the United States, the population of those who are 65 and older is due to at least double in the next few years," she said. "but we do not have an increase in funding or staffing.”
But she said the problem’s not just in government offices, but throughout society in general.
“We as a society need to have more education about what abuse, neglect and exploitation is and occurs and... a greater vigilance in terms of helping this population would be necessary," Booth said. "I think it would be really advantageous for our policymakers to understand the need that's out there. Most families think that it could never occur within their families, and according to our statistics it happens more than people understand and know.”
Booth says that only one in 14 elder abuse incidents are reported nationwide. Utah law, however, makes reporting abuse mandatory if witnessed, and more states are passing similar laws as time goes on.