An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Adult abuse reports dropped during the pandemic, but health leaders say that's likely misleading

The most common type of adult abuse reported to adult protective services is financial exploitation and self-neglect.
Washington State Department of Health.
The most common type of adult abuse reported to adult protective services is financial exploitation and self-neglect.

Reports of adult abuse have been steadily increasing since 2012 as baby boomers reach retirement.

Washington State Department of Health leaders say they are concerned by the drop in reports during the pandemic, saying elder abuse was still likely occurring.

“Seniors in general, especially, were so isolated during the worst of covid, that maybe there were situations that arose that unfortunately no one was aware of, or family members aren't in constant contact, or weren't able to see loved ones in person because they had to isolate so they weren't able to report them,” said Chris Wright a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Health, “So, the meteoric rise of numbers in the previous year’s hasn't continued in the last two, but that may not be an accurate reflection of what is actually happening.”

He says financial abuse or exploitation made up about a quarter of all abuse reports in 2021. Those can range from a phone scams, identity theft, to a person in a position of trust gaining access to a bank account, or other private important financial information.

He says hopeful that as vulnerable adults leave isolation, and as people spend more time with family, there will be more opportunities to report potential abuse or neglect.

He says as vulnerable adults rejoin their communities, there are opportunities for the public to help protect them.

“As people come out of pandemic isolation, hopefully get involved and back to normal life as much as possible and involved in their communities, there will be more interaction with our seniors and more eyes on them and more opportunity for the public to help, and report those cases of abuse when they see them,” he said.

He says signs that people may be experiencing abuse could be dramatic changes in behavior, odd financial decisions, or a struggle to meet their basic needs, like keeping food in the house. Those who are concerned an adult may be experiencing abuse, or is isolated and unable to care for themselves can report the situation on the Washington State Department of Health’s website.