Utah officials say elder abuse is on the rise

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah officials say they are receiving more complaints about abuse of vulnerable and elderly residents as those over 65 become the fastest-growing age group in the state.

Allegations of elder abuse have increased by 40 percent over a three-year period, state officials said. The reports detail financial, physical and sexual exploitation in long-term care facilities and private homes.

Utah Adult Protective Services received 5,325 reports of abuse of senior citizens in 2017, up from 3,030 in 2014, The Deseret News reported .

Utah's retirement age population is expected to double over the next 50 years, according to an analysis from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

The rate of those with Alzheimer's disease also will sharply increase, more than tripling in the same time frame to a total of 112,000 cases, the report estimates. The disease can cause memory loss, hallucinations and other cognitive issues. It has no cure.

State officials said Utah must do more to prepare for its aging population. Their recommendations include having more doctors encourage dance and exercise, which can help prevent Alzheimer's, more affordable housing for aging residents and incentives to attract workers to caregiving.

Rob Ence, executive director of the governor's Commission on Aging, said it was a good start for the state to pass a 2017 requirement for employees of long-term care facilities to receive training on how to work with patients with dementia.

But the state still must grow state programs to investigate abuse and advocate for patients' rights, he said.

Utah law requires anyone who suspects abuse of a vulnerable adult to notify either police or Utah Adult Protective Services, which works to shield victims from further abuse.

Nan Mendenhall, director of the protective agency, said people helping an older loved one should carefully vet caretakers and check in on them regularly to prevent abuse.

"If you don't have active eyes coming in to see your loved ones, they're more likely to be abused," she said.

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