Alaska’s senior population is growing faster than any other state’s, and our Adult Protective Services office is seeing more and more vulnerable adults at risk. Between summer 2010 and summer 2011, our office helped 810 vulnerable adults who experienced financial, physical and emotional abuse, neglect and self-neglect. Another 1,438 adults were helped with information and referrals to services.
Reports to the office have nearly tripled in the past five years — they’ve gone up 172 percent — and researchers estimate only one in five cases is reported.
We have new laws to combat fraud, neglect and abuse that state leaders passed earlier this year, but we still rely on reports from the community.
Will you please help by keeping your eyes and ears open for possible trouble?
If someone is at immediate risk — like being outside not dressed for the cold — call 911.
If you see more subtle signs — a utility shut-off notice on a vulnerable adult’s door; a new “friend” who seems to be isolating someone and spending his or her money; a lack of food in the house; soiled or sour clothing; unexplained tearfulness and confusion or decline in health — call the state Division of Senior and Disabilities Services’ Adult Protective Services at 451-5045 in Fairbanks, 1-800-478-9996 statewide or 269-3666 in Anchorage. You can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax to 907-269-3648.
The most common cases we see are financial exploitation — by a scammer, caregiver or relative — and self-neglect.
With new legal tools, we can stop a scammer from draining a bank account.
Convincing someone to accept help in a self-neglect case can be trickier.
People who are used to being self-reliant are often reluctant to ask for help. They may also be afraid that an agency will try to force them to give up living independently. This is not the case.
Our services are voluntary. As long as someone is capable of making a clear decision, Alaska law protects his or her right to choose independence over safety.
But if someone is having a hard time shopping or maintaining good hygiene from a lack of money or mobility, we can connect him or her with resources to improve well-being and maintain independence.
Reporting is easy, confidential and can change someone’s life for the better, forever.
Remember — see something, say something.
Brenda Mahlatini, of Anchorage, is program manager of Adult Protective Services, in the Division of Senior and Disabilities Services, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.