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April 20, 2014

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Valley’s surge in seniors brings need for greater safety awareness

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Steve Marcus

City of Las Vegas Fire PIO Tim Szymanski, left, talks with Marlene Moran during a senior safety fair at the East Las Vegas Community Center, 250 North Eastern Ave., Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013.

The fashion show elicited whoops and cheers from the audience as uniform-clad community members strolled across the stage.

There were police officers, firefighters, paramedics and utility company workers dressed in their workday best — neutral-colored uniforms clearly displaying badges, logos and employee-identification cards.

Their goal: Educate senior citizens about what to look for before allowing anyone into their homes, thus preventing the seniors from becoming crime victims. The short presentation was part of a Senior Safety Fair on Tuesday at the East Las Vegas Community Center.

The SALT (Seniors And Law Enforcement Together) Council organized the fair to raise awareness about crimes committed against the elderly, which organizer Kathy McClain said occur more often than people realize.

“Some of them are very hesitant to investigate and prosecute, especially if (the offender) happens to be a caregiver or family member they trust,” she said.

Senior Safety Fair at the East Las Vegas Community Center

Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy emcees a senior safety fair at the East Las Vegas Community Center, 250 North Eastern Ave., Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Metro Police have received 283 complaints of potential abuse, neglect or exploitation of an elderly person so far this year, said Lt. James Weiskopf, who works in the department’s abuse and neglect detail.

Fourteen of those complaints led to arrests or the cases being submitted to the District Attorney’s Office for filing of charges, he said. Fifty cases remain under investigation.

As Las Vegas’ elderly population grows — influenced by factors such as aging baby boomers and Southern Nevada’s appeal as a retirement spot — there needs to be a greater efforts to promote senior safety, Weiskopf said.

There has been an increase in the number of identity theft and fraud or forgery cases involving the elderly, often committed by someone the senior trusts to help manage finances, Weiskopf said.

“Although they may be somewhat coherent and competent, their mindset is no longer able to manage on a month-to-month basis where their finances need to go,” he said.

Such a scenario makes seniors vulnerable to financial exploitation.

But financial exploitation isn’t the only way seniors can find themselves as crime victims. Sometimes, criminals target the elderly because of their physical limitations, police said.

“We’re not here to scare you,” Metro Detective Enrique Hernandez told the group. “We are here to inform you and hopefully it can ease your fears.”

Here are some tips presented during the safety fair:

(Sources: Metro Police Detective Enrique Hernandez and Las Vegas Fire & Rescue Spokesman Tim Szymanski)

    • Financial crimes

      Why: Senior citizens tend to possess more wealth and if their living situation is somewhat isolated, they often place too much trust in the people they do interact with and see.

      How to protect yourself: Don’t make quick financial decisions or believe everything people tell you. Be wary of signing away your rights and never give your personal information — date of birth, Social Security number — to anyone who calls and asks for it. Also, women should avoid carrying personal documents in their purses to prevent identity theft.

      Monitor credit reports and bank statements to spot any instances of financial exploitation.

    • Property crimes

      Why: Similar to people committing financial crimes against the elderly, burglars target senior citizens on the notion they possess more valuables, such as jewelry.

      How to protect yourself: Keep doors locked and the garage closed. Consider investing in a home-alarm system. If you’re going out of town, have a neighbor collect mail and newspapers so your home doesn’t appear empty.

      If you’re having home repairs done, have a friend or family member come over while the workers are there.

      And if an unfamiliar person knocks on your door, don’t just ignore it. Using a strong voice, announce your presence and decline whatever he or she wants.

    • Violent crimes

      Why: Elderly people who are not aware of their surroundings or who have predictable habits can be vulnerable to violent crimes, such as robberies. Criminals also prey on the elderly because of their physical limitations.

      How to protect yourself: Maintain situational awareness and avoid dark places. Carry a phone with you, don’t visit isolated ATMs and never take out all your cash in public.

      If you're in a parking lot and someone seems to be watching you, go back inside the store and wait for the person to leave the area.

    • Elder abuse

      What: Elder abuse is the umbrella term for physical, sexual and emotional abuse committed against senior citizens, as well as neglect, abandonment and financial exploitation. Authorities say many cases go unreported or undiscovered because offenders are often family members, friends or close acquaintances of the victim.

      Signs: Detecting elder abuse can include a combination of physical and emotional changes, such as bruises, burns or broken bones without explanation or sudden shifts in mood and personality. Victims may avoid relatives and withdraw from their normal routines.

      How to protect yourself: Don’t be afraid to report elder abuse. If you’re not comfortable contacting police, confide in a trusted person, such as pastor. Also, keep in touch with trusted family, friends and neighbors. And plan for your future by preparing legal documents outlining your wishes.

      “You have to be able to put that pride aside sometimes and call for help,” Metro Police Detective Enrique Hernandez said.

    • Fire safety

      The problem: Cooking is the No. 1 cause of fires in Las Vegas, resulting in emergency calls every day. Elderly people tend to forget to turn off burners or sometimes fall asleep while cooking at odd hours, and burns pose much greater health risks for the elderly.

      How to protect yourself: If a fire starts, leave the residence immediately. Do not try to put the blaze out. Once safely outside, call for help. Also, avoid using candles and don’t use a lighter as a flashlight.

    • Medical emergencies

      Las Vegas Fire & Rescue has created yellow magnets that senior citizens can hang on their refrigerators to help paramedics in the event of a medical emergency. Seniors can list important medical information, such as their doctor’s name, allergies and current medications, on the magnets. That way, paramedics have a starting point if they ever respond to a home and find a senior unresponsive,.

      Authorities also recommend elderly people with health issues purchase medical alert ID tags, which they can wear around their neck in case of an emergency.

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