19 February 2013

Rise in senior-abuse cases prompts D.A. to step up to protect elderly

Not in L.A. baby!

MENSAH M. DEAN, Daily News Staff Writer deanm@phillynews.com, 215-568-8278
POSTED: Tuesday, February 19, 2013, 3:01 AM

ALICE THURNAU never left the hospital after suffering brain bleeding and a broken arm, hip, ribs, eye socket and sinus bone when she was knocked to the sidewalk in front of her Port Richmond home while being robbed of her purse.

Esther Ayodele had no signs of life when paramedics found her at her son's Germantown home. The medical examiner found 273 bruises, and wounds on every part of her 5-foot-2, 98-pound body.

Iris Galarza looked like a homeless drifter as she walked the streets of Kensington with plastic bags on her feet and reeking of urine. She had a home, but a woman she trusted was stealing her Social Security checks, resulting in Galarza's living in squalor and having to beg a store owner for food, authorities said.

These three women had one thing in common: old age. Thurnau was 90. Ayodele was 82. Galarza, who is deaf and has dementia, is 89.

In Philadelphia and across the nation, elder abuse - physical, financial, sexual or by neglect - is a growing problem, yet it dwells in the shadows of the better-publicized crimes of child abuse and domestic abuse, advocates say.

"Elder abuse here and everywhere is a hidden problem, and it's only going to get bigger, given the demographics of the baby boomers," said Joseph Snyder, of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), a nonprofit agency that investigates abuse allegations and works to keep the elderly in their homes.

Its director, Deborah Cooper Nixon, tapped by D.A. Seth Williams in December, has been with the office for 21 years, most recently as a homicide prosecutor.

"I think the time is now for elder abuse. I think that people are really looking at this epidemic and asking, 'Why?' They're asking, 'How can we roll up our sleeves and help?' " said Nixon, 48, holding up a thick stack of papers containing the names of hundreds of abuse victims age 60 and older with active cases in the D.A.'s office.

"I personally feel that elder abuse is heinous, and it's something that we as a society have to do more to stop," Nixon added.

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