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The difficulty of determining when elder abuse is occurring

We have previously written about the dangers that some elderly Americans face in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Too often, nursing home residents face physical, psychological and even sexual abuse by a staff member or by other residents. And if the victim has dementia or other cognitive difficulties, the abuse often goes unreported.

The average age of the American population is increasing, primarily because the huge generation of baby boomers continues to age. Because of this, elder abuse is likely to become an even more prominent and pressing issue - both inside and outside of nursing homes.

Over the weekend, the New York Daily News ran an in-depth article questioning what has happened to fitness guru Richard Simmons. Well into his 60s, the effusive Simmons continued to forge friendships and to stay socially active. Then, in 2013, everything started to change. Longtime friends of Simmons have said that he stopped responding to emails, letters and calls. He began to miss certain events, like funerals of dear friends, which was completely out of character for him. He told others that he could no longer be friends with them but failed to provide an explanation.

Some of those whose last contact with Simmons was face-to-face said he seemed very depressed and that his longtime, live-in housekeeper seemed to be making his decisions and keeping him secluded. They also suspect that his manager and his brother are exerting undue control and influence as well.

In response to the article, Richard Simmons did a phone interview with the Today show, claiming he was fine and that no one was controlling him. For now, that has to be the official word until or unless a more formal investigation is conducted.

From the outside, none of us can say whether Richard Simmons is/was being abused and exploited by the three people mentioned above. But this case shares many similarities with other stories that have proven to be elder abuse - including some involving other aging celebrities. At the very least, it shows just how difficult it can be to know when an elderly loved one may need to be classified as a vulnerable adult in need of protection.

Elder abuse is a widespread problem, and will likely be increasing in the near future. If you are concerned that an elderly loved one is being abused, exploited or dangerously neglected, please share your concerns with law enforcement and speak with an experienced victims advocacy attorney.

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