Getting older is scary, especially if you reach a point where you’re forced to rely on others for help at home or in a care facility.

Sadly, senior citizens and other vulnerable adults in this position are particularly susceptible to physical and emotional abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.

Elder abuse is a growing problem only getting worse as our population ages. Research indicates that thousands of elderly adults are harmed in the United States each and every day.

Many seniors suffer in silence because they are too scared or ashamed to speak up. Signs of abuse can be hard to spot, which too often means mistreatment goes unreported.

I recently introduced a plan to help improve the reporting of abuse through a detailed form provided to law enforcement who are called to investigate situations involving frail and vulnerable adults. Utilizing this form, officers will be better equipped to ask specific questions and make accurate observations about one time incidents and reoccurring issues.

The warning signs of elder abuse may be obvious, such as bruising or other injuries, or they may be less clear, such as financial control, confinement or isolation.

The required form would be designed to cover all the bases. It would include specific questions to identify possible physical abuse as well as financial abuse as part of a risk assessment, along with reminders for law enforcement to follow in reporting and seeking assistance for the victim. The form directs law enforcement officers to assess whether an elderly adult is in pain, is properly nourished and has access to medical care, among a comprehensive list of other risk factors.

While Michigan has penalties for convicted abusers, elder abuse is underreported. Approximately one in 10 Americans age 60 years or older has experienced some form of elder abuse, and only one in 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities, according to the National Council on Aging.

To protect our seniors we must implement processes for more thorough reporting. Prosecuting attorneys depend on law enforcement to gather evidence needed to prosecute the guilty and exonerate the innocent. This standardized form will serve as a useful tool, allowing law enforcement to work collaboratively with prosecutors and families to get justice and prevent future abuse.

Implementing this plan will result in better reporting and help rescue seniors before abuse escalates.

State Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, represents Michigan’s 44th District.

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