Note: This story appears in the Friday, July 19 newspaper on Page A1.

Law enforcement and senior citizens are joining forces to help older members of society stay safe and informed.

Both groups gathered Thursday at the Athens Community Center for a daylong “Ohio TRIAD Senior Conference.” The conference is held once per year at varying locations around the state. Its name reflects the conference’s goal of bringing law enforcement, seniors and community partners to reduce crime against elderly members of society.

Each year’s event takes on a different focus — the 2018 conference centered on dementia, veteran services and elder abuse laws.

The focus in Athens was on preventative measures senior citizens can take to protect themselves at home and in their community. Among the speakers Thursday included Athens County Sheriff Rodney Smith and Athens Mayor Steve Patterson.

The mayor highlighted the importance of cyber security, noting that protection often starts with the individual.

“There are protections out there, but be aware that a lot of it starts with you,” he said. “When you’re seeing things that look odd, they probably are odd.”

Patterson described several ways for citizens to stay informed about the area, including Nixle alerts and the City Source phone application. The City Source app allows citizens to report issues, such as housing complaints and potholes. The service also available on the city’s website. He noted that in cases of emergency, 911 should always be contacted first if needed.

Ursel McElroy, director of the Ohio Department of Aging, came to Athens to speak about ways senior citizens can contribute to fighting problems that affect older adults through engaging with their local communities. The number of seniors in Ohio has risen over the past decade, McElroy said.

That means nearly 1-in-4 Ohioans are over 65 years old, with many handling issues with mobility or being the victim of scam attempts.

McElroy told attendees there are several factors to watch for that place individuals at greater risk of being targeted, including declining mental or physical health, withdrawing from activities they previously participated in, past trauma, lower income or poverty, race and gender.

There were three things she asked senior citizens and caretakers to do:

  • Learn the types of abuse — physical, emotional, sexual, neglect, etc.
  • Learn warning signs — physical bruises, changes in behavior, or even unexpected involvement from strangers or family members
  • Know how to report it, and do so when necessary

She noted that almost anyone can be a perpetrator of elder abuse, especially if a drug addiction is involved.

Judge George McCarthy, who presides in Athens Common Pleas Court and additionally started a Drug Court in Athens, said he believes the best way to prevent seniors from being taken advantage of is to have them engaged and working with law enforcement. He also spoke about several real world preventative measures that seniors can take to stay safe.

One of his main tips involves phone scams. It is unwise to ever give out information over the phone, especially if one is the receiver of the call and not the caller. He emphasized it is also important to never give a social security number, bank account numbers, or similar important information over the phone. Other suggestions from the judge include:

  • Conceal expensive items, such as jewelry
  • Refrain from carrying large amounts of cash
  • Don’t keep prescription medication in medicine cabinets where they can be easily stolen
  • Keep a lockbox
  • Lock the house while working in the attic, basement or outside

McCarthy pointed to examples of how seniors can be taken advantage of, including “workers” who offer to help around the house.

He noted that there are several known ways seniors can be taken advantage of, including workers who offer to help around a property or house.

Other common phone scams include calls from overseas that ask you to press a button, and then start charging for overseas messaging; calls that assert a grandchild or other family member is in jail, and then asks for bond money; calls stating you have won the lottery or other large item, but taxes have to be paid to obtain the item or amount; and many others.

McCarthy told attendees to ask for a phone number to call the scammer back and to look that number up, or to call the institution they are alleging to represent directly.

Athens’ City-County Health Department Commissioner James Gaskell spoke about how staying active and aware can be a defining factor in keeping individuals alive and healthy longer into their lives. He gave several lists of preventative measures citizens can take around their homes to not fall, keep intruders out, and remain active and healthy.

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