Haywood County is seeing a spike in the number of abused disabled adults.
Most disabled adults in the county are between 60 and 84 years of age.
The Health and Human Services Agency reports 198 cases of alleged abuse, neglect, or exploitation in 2017, but over 400 reports in the current fiscal year.
It says that’s a 45% increase, compared to a 4% increase in 2017.
“If you suspect an allegation that an adult is being abused, neglected, or exploited, you're mandated to make that report and you can choose to be anonymous,” says Aging and Adult Services Program Manager Lisa Bradley. “They can call our agency. They can walk in. We have after hours on call through the sheriff's office,” she says.
Officials say a growing aging population increases the number of dementia cases too. They say in the opioid epidemic, sometimes family members steal medications from their grandparents.
The sheriff's office says to help offset the opioid impact, it has prescription lock boxes.
“If you know someone who needs to lock up their medications they just come by, get one. It's that easy,” says sheriff’s office spokesperson Lindsay Regner.
To combat the problem, officials are urging people to report abuse cases and they’re promoting awareness.
“For everybody to come together as a community and recognize the signs of potential abuse, neglect, and exploitation and try and help that adult before it turns into adult protective services,” Bradley says.
Bradley says watch for unexplained bruises, questionable banking transactions, and how the elderly care for themselves. She says action and awareness are key to addressing the problem.
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is Saturday. A local awareness walk will take place in Haywood County Monday at 5 p.m. starting at the Justice Center in Waynesville.
The Southwestern Commission Area Agency on Aging created the walk. Seven mountain counties will walk simultaneously Monday for elder abuse awareness. The goal is to have them statewide.