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Dr. Phil takes on elder abuse with help from UC Irvine

Dr. Kerry Burnight and Dr. Phil McGraw
Dr. Kerry Burnight and Dr. Phil McGraw

Elder justice advocates are excited to see increasing media coverage of the hidden problem of elder abuse

UC Irvine gerontologist Kerry Burnight, PhD, discusses elder abuse and prevention on the January 8, 2013, edition of the Dr. Phil show, airing on CBS. 

The program, which calls elder abuse a hidden problem, cites statistics showing that more than five million older Americans experience abuse or neglect annually in the United States. It also notes that 23 cases go unreported for every case that reaches authorities.

“Elder abuse cuts across all races, gender, ethnic and religious groups and occurs in every part of this country,” Burnight says. “It is inflicted in homes and facilities, and causes untold suffering.“

“Our job, every one of us, is to say we won’t stand for this,” Burnight says. “I really credit Dr. Phil with helping to mobilize the nation about this hidden shame.”

“It used to be that people sometimes did not want to get involved if they suspected child abuse, thinking, it’s between the parents and the child,” she said. “Child abuse advocates have worked hard to insure that people have the tools and information to do something." 

“Likewise, people of all ages are now uniting against elder abuse through Ageless Alliance,” she says. “AgelessAlliance.org gives us each a voice and practical information about what we can do to take action against this growing problem.”

We need to get people past the feeling that they’re all alone when it comes to confronting elder abuse.

“If you think there’s something to be concerned about, call law enforcement or your county’s adult protective services agency. If the person lives in a nursing home or assisted living facility, report your suspicions to the Long-term Care Ombudsman,” Burnight says. “If the first person won’t help or doesn’t know how, keep trying until you find someone who will help.”

Burnight emphasizes four points to keep an older adult you love safe from elder abuse: 

  • Plan Ahead – Understand the elder’s finances, identify who within the family is trustworthy and who many not be and do homework on nursing homes
  • Stay Connected – Avoid isolation as it is one of the great risk factors; keep in close touch with phone calls and visits
  • Know the signs – Watch for red flags, including neck bruises, pressure sores, filth, and fear
  • Get Help – Your county’s resources include an adult protective services agency, if you suspect abuse in the home, the long-term care ombudsman for abuse in nursing homes, and law enforcement.
-John Murray, University Communications