When Sandra Hamilton was employed as a lawyer, she handled a case in which an elderly man was taken advantage of by his much younger wife, beginning when she forced him to live alone while she lived with a boyfriend.
"He was starting to complain to his neighbors because he didn't have food. He was out of cigarettes," Ms. Hamilton said.
"She wasn't really taking care of him."
The abuse culminated when she kidnapped him from the hospital so she could start receiving his pension checks again.
"At the time, I really didn't realize the crime that was being committed. It just seemed to be wrong," Ms. Hamilton said.
Now, she knows the woman was guilty of financial exploitation and neglect - two common types of abuse against the elderly.
To raise awareness and help protect the elderly from being victims of abuse, Ms. Hamilton recently founded the Coalition of Organizations Protecting Elders (COPE).
Many of COPE's approximately 70 members work with the elderly in their regular jobs. At its monthly meetings, the organization works to stay informed so members can recognize abuse when it occurs and address it effectively.
Ms. Hamilton said elder abuse occurs more often than people think, and is usually committed by relatives.
In Lucas County last year, 773 cases were reported, and 334 more were reported during the first five months of this year, said Barbara Van Wormer, senior services coordinator for the Lucas County Department of Job and Family Services.
For every one case reported, at least five go unreported, Ms. Hamilton said.
Types of elder abuse include physical and spoken assaults, financial exploitation, and neglect, she said.
An example of spoken abuse toward older adults would be calling them stupid or threatening to put them in a nursing home.
"If you don't stop wetting your pants, I'm going to put you in a nursing home," Ms. Hamilton said as an example.
Some elders also experience neglect from people who are charged with caring for them.
"Let's say a parent lives with their adult son and he's not buying food. He's not making sure food's in the home. He's not taking the parent to doctor's appointments, isolating them from any activities or friends," she said.
Since its founding in January, COPE has had agencies come to its meetings to share their services. It also held a documentary showing and panel discussion this month and plans to work with financial institutions to help identify and prevent financial exploitation.
"We are in some ways trying to educate ourselves so we are a more effective coalition," Ms. Hamilton said.
- Sarah Mervosh