Fourth Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn says Tennessee’s District Attorney Generals are on a mission to protect seniors from elder abuse.

“We are improving laws, increasing public awareness and, with the help of other partners, using criminal investigations and courtroom prosecutions to protect our seniors from elder abuse,” says Dunn, “but we need the help of informed citizens to win this battle.”

Elder abuse can take a number of forms, including financial exploitation. Those taking an elder’s money could be telephone scammers, but may also include neighbors, family members, service providers or serial criminals looking for easy targets. But elder abuse isn’t just a form of theft, it may also include the neglect of the elderly or vulnerable, physical abuse or even sexual abuse.

One Tennessee elderly and disabled victim was left to live alone and without the ability to care for herself. She was occasionally fed by a family member who would pass food through a window. Her frail body was found on a heap of debris beneath the window, the site of her only human interaction or support.

Dunn says last year, a longtime caregiver for an elderly neighbor admitted beating, kicking and even using a bullwhip on a 71-year-old man. The victim’s home was in deplorable condition and the victim, who suffered numerous broken bones and bruises, died shortly after being hospitalized. The caregiver pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and vulnerable-adult neglect, abuse and exploitation.

Earlier this year, a caregiver for an 87-year-old woman with dementia pled guilty to stealing $12,600 from her and forging papers to change the title on her car.

The prosecutor says these are just a few of the criminal cases his office sees far too often in the court system.

The elderly population is growing as baby boomers become seniors, meaning both the need for support services is increasing as is the opportunity to commit elder abuse. The ability to respond to reports of elder abuse has improved; however, the missing link in our response to the elder abuse crisis is under-reporting. Simply put, law enforcement is ready to respond with help but is powerless to intervene if the abuse is not reported.

Tennessee’s older adults - parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings - deserve fundamental freedoms and dignity. The current elderly are part of what some have called the greatest generation. They have a wealth of skills and knowledge they have developed over a lifetime of experiences. They add strength and wisdom to the community.

Tennessee state law requires reporting of suspected abuse of a vulnerable or elderly adult. Call 1-888-APS-TENN (277-8366) or visit https://reportadultabuse.dhs.tn.gov/.

James B. Dunn is District Attorney General for Cocke, Grainger, Jefferson, and Sevier Counties.