EDITORIAL: Hotline helps vulnerable older population

Elder abuse comes in many forms and far too often those in this demographic do not have the connections or resources needed to fight back. A hotline project is working to address that injustice by giving older people a way to protect themselves and get support.

Record Journal reporter Cris Villalonga-Vivoni recently wrote about elder abuse, a nationwide problem and one that continues to be underreported, according to Audrey Grove, director of CareConnect Navigator at Masonicare, a Wallingford-based not-for-profit provider of senior living and healthcare.

Nationwide, an estimated 10% of adults 60 and older will experience one or more forms of elder abuse during any given year, according to the federal Department of Justice.

Elder abuse runs the gamut of painful experiences and can include caregiver neglect and financial exploitation as well as psychological, sexual or physical abuse, writes Villalonga-Vivoni, citing Department of Justice findings. The resulting trauma can result in “increased chance of mortality to financial loss to disruptions in relationships.”

A common and disturbing exploitation involves frauds and scams. Grove told Villalonga-Vivoni that seniors can be easy prey as they may be isolated and looking for connections to others. Their knowledge of internet safety may not be the best, either, Grove explained. For instance, romance scams often foster a friendship with a senior ultimately resulting in the scammer asking for money. Most seniors realize they're being exploited only after it's too late, she said.

Scams often prey on fear, Grove said, describing how a scammer can frighten an older person with a phone call saying a family member was arrested and needs money to get out of jail.

In 2021, the state's Office of Attorney General William Tong created the Elder Justice Hotline. The service provides seniors a place to report abuse and get help with issues that may require financial, criminal or social services to address their situations.

"We provide this resource so that people aren't alone. They have someplace to turn and can get someone in the Attorney General's office to focus on their issues personally,” Tong said.

The Elder Justice Hotline has assisted hundreds of Connecticut seniors experiencing elder abuse, typically fielding 70 calls a week, through its 1-860-808-5555 number. Those statistics show this service is needed and being used.

The idea was to create a “one stop shop” for seniors, making it easier to find and use the many available resources. Hotline operators can immediately connect callers with the right department or authorities for a wide range of needs: housing, food insecurity, health insurance and legal assistance. There’s a follow up call, too, to ensure that the issue is resolved.

Having a phone line with a live staff member was an important piece of creating the service, as older people may not like or have easy access to the internet. They also need to connect with a human voice and not an automated message.

"This hotline will help law enforcement, as well as family and friends, protect our most targeted and vulnerable population,” said James Rovella, the commissioner for the state department of emergency services and public protection. “Our older populations sometimes have difficulty and fear when they are trying to report that they are a victim. This will be a tremendous help."

Giving older people a hotline — at times it’s a lifeline — provides them access to a wide range of support services. It means they do not have to be alone as they sort out what can be a confusing and, at times, dangerous world. The components of this hotline assistance reflect a compassionate and result-oriented approach. The hotline can help our elderly stay healthy and safe and let them know they are valued. “Elder justice” says it all.


More From This Section