SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah remains at the forefront in its efforts to combat elder abuse, a national aging official said.
Barbara Dieker, director of the Office of Consumer Choice and Protection within the federal Administration on Aging, was one of the featured speakers at the Utah Gerontological Society's 2004 conference.
Dieker said as many as 3.5 million seniors across the nation suffer from abuse, neglect and exploitation, and the numbers are only going to grow as the country's senior population explodes in the years to come.
"It is clear we must act now to protect our elderly Americans," she said Friday.
Dieker said it is only through collaborative efforts of aging advocates, law enforcement and private partners that instances of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation can be stopped.
In Utah, the state Division of Aging and Adult Services has embarked on a variety of projects to spot or prevent instances of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
Based in Richfield, a six-county program called the Sentinel Project trains volunteers to visit seniors in their homes, particularly those residents who may live in isolated, rural areas.
Ron Stromberg, assistant director, said the program, which teams Area Adult Aging agencies with Adult Protective Services, fosters contact with elderly Utah residents that has been impossible before.
The agency also trains bank tellers and other finance employees on how to spot potential incidences of exploitation through its Utah Bank Reporting Project.
While Stromberg said most people are aware of the legal requirement to report suspected child abuse, few realize the same reporting requirement is in place to protect older, vulnerable residents.
The agency, through Police Officer Standards and Training, offers a law enforcement certification program on spotting elder abuse, neglect or exploitation.
"We wanted a trained law enforcement officer in every community," Stromberg said.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)