If the trend continues, Celebration of Seniors is going to have to find a bigger venue.
The annual event for older adults in the South Coast had more than 800 people at White’s of Westport this year, breaking its previous record and filling the breakfast and vendor fair with people eager to know more about aging-related resources and elder abuse.
Vendors from healthcare, homecare, health insurance companies, local businesses, and councils on aging came prepared for the large crowd and still found they ran out of bags, giveaways, and flyers by the noon end time.
Attendees left the event armed with bags of resources and pamphlets to help them live better.
Celebration of Seniors is organized each year in a partnership between Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III and Coastline.
“The turnout is a testament to the amount and quality of information, resources and services available,” said Justin Lees, Coastline CEO, about the number of attendees. “Each year, Coastline is thrilled to partner with the District Attorney’s office to bring together all of the aging resources in the region and help older adults live independently with the support and autonomy they need and deserve.”
Held the day after national Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Celebration of Seniors helps raise awareness of abuse and fraud and offers older adults information to protect themselves against it.
In his remarks, District Attorney Quinn spoke about his efforts to protect elders from fraud and abuse.
“There are an estimated 5 million people (that) are victims of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation each year,” he said. “(Of that number,) one third are financial fraud and abuse (victims). We hope to reduce this through prosecution, education, and prevention, which is critical. I will continue to aggressively prosecute people, but not getting scammed in the first place is even more important.”
“People need to feel secure and safe in their communities or you have no community,” Quinn said.
Taryn Lee-Turgeon, Assistant Director of Protective Services for the state’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs, spoke directly to the issue of elder abuse and the state’s work to mitigate it. Massachusetts has 19 agencies designated to investigate abuse and neglect cases for anyone age 60 or older, she said.
These protective services agencies have received almost 40,000 reports in a single year in the last few years, Lee-Turgeon said, resulting in almost 60 percent of those cases being screened in for investigation. For cases that don’t meet investigative criteria, agencies still respond, helping to connect the person to services and people who can help them.
Lee-Turgeon defined physical abuse as “any intentional act that causes somebody harm or threats of harm if they can follow through with those,” and emotional abuse as “any non-accidental infliction of emotional distress.”
“No one deserves to be yelled at, to be mistreated,” she said about emotional harm. “And if that behavior is starting to cause an impact on your day-to-day well-being, that is emotional abuse.”
Of all the different types of abuse reports, Lee-Turgeon said self-neglect reports are the highest and sexual abuse are the lowest, again due to suspected underreporting.
Sexual abuse “is vastly underreported and we need to bring awareness that just because you are 60 or older doesn’t mean you still can’t be a victim,” she said.
Anyone can report elder abuse, Lee-Turgeon said, by calling 1-800-922-2275, 24/7, 365 days a year.
Speaking directly to Medicare fraud, Lucilia Prates-Ramos, statewide director of the Massachusetts Senior Medicare Patrol Program, advised attendees to track their healthcare interactions and expenses using a medical journal that SMP provided at the event. It can be a lot of work to do this, she said, but it’s crucial for being able to identify and report errors and fraud.
“It’s so important to safeguard Medicare for future generations,” she added.
As the last speaker in the morning line-up, AARP statewide director, Mike Festa, reiterated and emphasized again the power older adults have to report fraud and abuse.
AARP, he said, just released a report on financial fraud connected to older adults.
“The numbers are staggering,” he said. “Just within family we’re talking about losing $3 billion.”
Festa urged people to report fraud even when they know the person and it feels uncomfortable.
“The truth of the matter is that the greatest protection for those who commit fraud is your inability…to report it,” he said. “The one thing I want you to remember is do not suffer in silence, be proactive.”