It was a seemingly normal day at the Reliable Insurance Agency office in Cloquet when insurance agent Starr Marshall met a client whom she would never forget — a client who inspired her to begin raising awareness of elder abuse in the Cloquet area.
Marshall specializes in Medicare and was consulting an 83-year-old woman about her policy when the woman's son became "belligerent," Marshall said. He had to be removed from the office. The woman was scared, but Marshall encouraged her to report the son's behavior, telling her, “scared is better than dead.”
While this was not the first, or the last, alleged instance of elder abuse that Marshall has witnessed, it was the instance that pushed her to advocate for change, she said.
“It’s sad because nobody really wants to talk about it," Marshall said of elder abuse. “We leave the most important generation of our time … we leave them out completely and act like they aren’t here.”
Since then, Marshall has helped coordinate two Senior Day in Cloquet events, both held on June 15 in correlation with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, with the first event taking place in 2019.
While Marshall intended for the event to occur annually, the COVID-19 pandemic effectively canceled 2020's event, and she said that this year, they were eager to get back to work.
“We’ve all worked together," Marshall said. “People really stepped up.”
Marshall credits both Reliable Insurance Agency and Northwoods Credit Union for helping to plan, sponsor and support the Senior Day events since its inception. Several local businesses also provided donations to this year's event, with Arrowhead Transit providing free busing for seniors wishing to attend.
The event was held at Veteran's Memorial Park in Cloquet on Tuesday, June 15, and included a photo booth, approximately 50 vendors, prize drawings, a speech from Cloquet Mayor Roger Maki, food and more.
“They’ve got lots for us to enjoy," Senior Day attendee Shirley Magnuson said.
Magnuson is a senior citizen and shared that she has witnessed what she believes to be elder abuse, in addition to hearing about experiences from her friends.
“It’s kind of sad," she said. “It does happen.”
According to Marshall and Carlton County Adult Services Supervisor Julie Juntti, there are various forms of elder abuse, such as financial exploitation, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and self neglect.
While not all cases turn out to be abuse, Juntti encouraged anyone who sees anything suspicious to make a report. County officials will then work with the appropriate agency to ensure resources are provided to the party in need.
According to Juntti, data dating back to 2018 shows that the most frequently reported allegation of adult maltreatment is financial exploitation, followed by emotional abuse in cases investigated by Carlton County Public Health and Human Services. In the 2019-2020 reporting period, the agency saw a total of 114 reported allegations of abuse for both vulnerable adults and elders, of which 49 were financial exploitation.
Juntti believes scams play a large role in the high number of financial abuse reports and she said it is likely scam activity increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, while reports have decreased. This is likely due to the fact that many elders experienced isolation during the pandemic, Juntti said, which is another reason Marshall found Tuesday's Senior Day in Cloquet event to be impactful.
“We know that this last year has been so bad and rough," Marshall said. “We just want to show the seniors some love.”
While the event was geared towards seniors, people of all ages were welcome. Totes with information and resources regarding elder abuse were handed out to the first 100 attendees and all senior citizens.
"I thought it was just nice to walk around," Senior Day attendee Dan Unulock said.
Deanna Wisneski, a financial services specialist at Northwoods Credit Union, shared that everything was going smoothly the day of the event, while Marshall said she couldn't have asked for a better day.
Signs of potential abuse
- An older adult’s sudden change in behavior.
- The caregiver's refusal to allow visitors to see an older adult alone.
- Broken eyeglasses/frames, physical signs of being subjected to punishment, or signs of being restrained.
- Older adults being extremely withdrawn, non-communicative or non-responsive.
- Unusual behavior shown by older adults, such as sucking, biting, rocking.
- Sudden changes in bank accounts or banking practices, including an unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money by a person accompanying the older adult.
- The inclusion of additional names on an older adult’s bank signature card.
- Abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents.
- Blood found on sheets, linens or an older adult’s clothing.
- Unexplained venereal disease or genital infections.
- Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding.
- Changes in an older adult’s demeanor, such as showing fear or becoming withdrawn when a specific person is around.
- To learn more about other signs of potential abuse, visit https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/red-flags-elder-abuse-0.
To learn about how to spot a scam, visit https://www.ag.state.mn.us/consumer/Publications/howtospotascam.asp.
To report a suspected case of elder abuse in Carlton County, call the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center at 1-844-880-1574. Call 911 if you are reporting an emergency case that demands immediate medical or law enforcement services.
To report a suspected case of financial exploitation of an elder, call the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-372-8311.
For questions and concerns regarding elder abuse resources in Carton County, call Carlton County Public Health and Human Services at 218-879-4511.