AUGUSTA – The Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office sees few cases of elder abuse, Detective Sgt. William Gagne said.

That doesn’t mean the issue isn’t there. It’s just underreported, he said.

State officials launched a new initiative Thursday to uncover and combat the abuse of senior citizens. Five organizations – including the Attorney General’s Office – will lead training sessions for law enforcement officials, victim advocates, first-responders and others on issues involving the elderly.

The Elder Justice Training Partnership will be funded by a three-year $450,000 federal grant, and coordinated by the Volunteers of America Northern New England Chapter.

Elder abuse can include physical abuse, emotional abuse, financial exploitation and intentional neglect.

At a news conference Thursday, Diana Scully, director of the Office of Elder Services, said financial exploitation is one of the most frequent types of abuse. It “begins with a few withdrawals from the ATM, a few checks written to cash. It grows to an average theft of almost $40,000 from elder Maine people, and the thief is almost always another family member,” she said.

The Attorney General’s Office estimates that 14,000 cases of elder abuse occur every year, but 84 percent are not reported. At Thursday’s conference, Attorney General Steven Rowe said seniors are the fastest-growing segment of Maine’s population – 23 percent since 1980.

In abuse cases, one-third involve financial exploitation and one-fourth involve physical abuse, Rowe said.

“By providing consistent and thorough training to those involved in the criminal justice system, we will be better able to investigate and prosecute cases of elder abuse,” Rowe said.

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