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When I’m 64: Aging in America: Elder Abuse

Tuesday, January 25, 2000 at 2:59 PM

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As the senior population continues to grow, so do incidents of physical and mental abuse on the elderly. The number of investigated cases has increased 10 percent over the last 10 years...meaning that one out of every eight senior citizens is being abused. As INFOHIO's/ 90.3's Yolanda Perdomo reports, that number may be just the tip of the iceberg, because many older adults refuse to make their voices heard.

"I’m not upset. I don’t hold no animosity at all. You know how youngsters are they do things they’re not supposed to do. And try to get away with it. She just didn’t get away with it.”

Former Cleveland boxer Jimmy Bivins reflects on the emotional and physical abuse the 80 year old endured from his daughter Jossette and his son-in-law Daryl Banks. He makes no eye contact, looking down at the floor with his back hunched over. Two years ago, Bivins was found in his family’s attic in squalid conditions, wrapped in a sheet covered in his own excrement, sores from head to toe. An infected finger had to be amputated as a result of his abuse. Gary Horvath, Bivins legal guardian and best friend says he was shocked to see his former trainer in such wretched conditions.

Finger had to be amputated. He was trying to open up a cold can of pork and beans that someone threw up there for him. And he found an old shearing knife and was trying to cut the pork and bean can lid off, and it slipped on his finger.

The story of Jimmy Bivins, in many ways, is typical. Most senior citizens who are the victims of abuse are between 70 and 80 years old. But Carol Dayton says more and more men are becoming the target of abuse. Dayton heads the Adult Protective Services department for Cuyahoga County.

When the long standing battering relationship that the man had been battering his wife and is now the ill partner, the one who needs care maybe the victim of some retaliation.

According to Cuyahoga county statistics, 1,336 new files were opened on abused senior citizens last year, that’s more than 100 cases per month. Dayton says the numbers are actually much higher. She says many seniors in abusive situations...either with their family members or caregivers...are afraid to come forward with complaints.

The older person is very reluctant both to lose those caregivers, to accuse them of wrongdoing, there’s a lot of shame involved. People do not want to bring authority in. Do not want to have police come in to address issues of exploitation by an adult child. Or another relative. Not only is there shame, but there is sometimes feeling of responsibility, like what have I done wrong that my kid isn’t doing better. The fairly sad and common statement is he’s really a good boy, a good girl, doesn’t really mean to do that.

Elder abuse is really a complex phenomena. And when you’re talking about elder abuse, you’re really talking about two types. There’s elder abuse that is neglect, which is omission, and there is elder abuse that is commission which is elder abuse that can be physical, financial, as well as psychological.

Dr. Penny Harris is a sociologist, heading up the aging studies program at John Carroll University. She says the generation gap may contribute to an older person’s reluctance to speak out about his or her situation.

We’re much more open now talking about all sorts of topics; sex to family violence, and older adults usually don’t talk about that. They don’t want to bring any shame to their family. The most important part is being able to gain a trusting relationship with an older adult and show that you are really concerned with them. And giving them the opportunity to talk and not rush them into a situation of talking about what’s happening.

She says more often than not, senior citizens can recover from an abusive situations. For 80 year old Jimmy Bivins, his therapy involves weekly trips to the gym to see young fighters spar, and to offer some of his expertise. Earlier this month, he was involved in a different kind of fight, when his 82 year old sister Maria Baskin and legal guardian Gary Horvath sparred over custody of the Cleveland boxer. Each side accused the other of repeated neglect and mismanagement of his money. Jimmy himself was confused as to why he was in court in the first place.

JB- They want to inquire, they want to investigate something about boxing.

YP- Do you know that you’re at a hearing about who will have custody of you? Mr. Horvath or your sister Ms. Baskin?

JB- I didn’t know that, that was what it was all about. That’s new to me.

YP- You weren’t sure why you came down here. That the reason everyone is here is to talk about who has your best interest. Did you know that?

JB- No, I didn’t know that. But I know it now. Best interest? Shoot, who’s supposed to find out, work that out? Gary is supposed to work that out with my sister or with me.

Bivins met with a magistrate alone, behind closed doors. The decision was that in the end, nothing would change. He would continue to live with his sister, while his legal guardian continues to represent his interests. Bivens’ daughter was never formally charged with abuse, although she has been ordered never to contact him again. For INFOHIO, I’m Yolanda Perdomo, in Cleveland.

If you or someone you know suspects an elderly person is being abused, you can call Cuyahoga County Adult Protective Services at 216-420-6700. Your information will remain confidential.

Additional Information

Web Resources on Elder Abuse
[Some materials were compiled by Lori A. Stiegel, Associate Staff Director American Bar Association Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly National Initiatives and Resources on Elder Abuse]

* Administration on Aging of the Department of Health & Human Services
* American Bar Association
   - Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly
   - Commission on Domestic Violence
* National Coalition Against Domestic Violence Task Force on Elderly Battered Women
* National Organization for Women (NOW)
   - NOW and Violence Against Women
* Family Violence Prevention Fund
* U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime
   - Resources for Elderly Crime Victims
   - U.S. Department of Justice National Institute of Justice
      - Justice Information Center
* Nursing Home Alert.com

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