EL PASO, Texas - Elder abuse is one one of the fastest-growing crimes across the country, and it is on the rise in El Paso County.
According to an official with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, there were approximately 3,900 cases of elder abuse reported in El Paso County in 2016. That number is up about 200 from the year before.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now considers elder abuse a major public health problem.
The abuse can take many forms and happens at the hands of hired help or loved ones.
The National Research Council estimates about one in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of abuse. But that estimate may not be telling the true story.
The Council's research has shown that for every one case reported, there are up to 23 more not reported.
El Paso's Grace Ortiz is a community engagement specialist for the Department of Family and Protective Services.
"When you start having that verbal emotional abuse it is going to lead to the physical. It is just a flag," said Ortiz.
Ortiz also served as an elder abuse investigator.
"I've walked into homes where mom has been seeping bodily fluid and has an infection on her feet. Her feet are the size of an elephant. You are doing your investigation and you are asking her 'What's going on, since when have you seen the doctor?' And you are asking her the appropriate questions, and she doesn't know what day it is. But she is living with a daughter, a son and grandkids. And they never got her to the doctor," Ortiz said.
The abuse can be physical, emotional/verbal, financial, or sexual. Medical neglect and physical neglect also qualify.
Many family members choose to hire a caretaker to help them take care of their elderly loved ones. But that may not be enough.
"Just because your mom or dad has a caretaker doesn't mean you are done. You should still be involved, because that caregiver might be doing something," Ortiz said.
Ortiz said too many people turn their heads and decide not to get involved if they suspect elder abuse. That is against the law.
"Many people don't know that Texas is a mandated state. There is a law that states if at any time a Texas resident suspects any abuse, neglect or exploitation toward a senior or toward a person with disabilities you are supposed to be calling Adult Protective Services."
People can remain anonymous.
Signs of abuse can include isolation, bruises and weight loss.
There are about 100,000 elderly residents living in El Paso, and the number is growing.
"Adult Protective Services is expecting a boom. And we have been waiting for it. Because right now, all of those baby boomers, 10,000 a day (nationwide) are turning 65," Ortiz said.