Alabama raising awareness of elder abuse

Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 6:44 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 14, 2022 at 7:04 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The state will recognize World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Wednesday.

Last year, the state received over 11,000 reports of elder abuse, so the Alabama Department of Human Resources wants to remind people to watch for signs of elder abuse.

To help keep track of abusers, earlier this year Gov. Kay Ivey signed “Shirley’s Law,” which led to the creation of the state’s elder abuser registry. Jo Holcombe led the charge for this law that was named after her mother, Shirley Smith, who was the victim of financial elder abuse. But Holcombe hasn’t stopped after her legislation was signed into law.

“I still get chills,” said Holcombe. “While I never wanted her to go through that and would never wish it on her, good has come from evil.”

A 2018 study from the National Adult Protective Services Association found that 26 states have elder abuse registries, each with different tracking systems and different definitions of a perpetrator.

“This will prevent a lot of abuse and neglect from slipping through the cracks where someone may be employed and working with a vulnerable person,” said Sam Smith, the director of Adult Protective Services within DHR.

Holcombe applied to be a part of a mentorship program with the National Collaboratory to Address Elder Mistreatment. She plans to research how to improve registries for states and advocate for the creation of registries in others.

“I can then go to other legislators and say, ‘Well, states, X, Y and Z are on board and this is something that you need,” she said.

The Alabama Department of Human Resources says others can help just by recognizing the signs of elder abuse.

“You might see the person is withdrawn or depressed, that they’re resigned and helpless, and they hesitate to talk openly. They deny that they’re being abused because with a caregiver, they’re afraid that they’re going to lose their caregiver,” said Smith.

Other warning signs include:

  • Increased fear or anxiety
  • Isolation from friends or family
  • Withdrawal from normal activities
  • Unusual changes in behavior or sleep
  • Unexplained injuries, bruises, cuts, or sores
  • Unsanitary living conditions and poor hygiene
  • Unusual or sudden changes in financial spending patterns, will, or other important documents

Alabama’s elder abuse registry is scheduled to be ready by Jan. 1. And Holcombe will find out if her proposal is selected next Monday.

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