Gatekeeper program spreads net of protection over vulnerable seniors

Even in a community as nice as Lake Oswego elder abuse exists.

That is why the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center will soon be offering the Gatekeeper program, which trains people to identify and assist senior citizens who might be especially vulnerable to a problem that often goes undetected. ANN ADRIAN

“Elder abuse cuts across all genders, families, strangers, relatives,” said ACC Manager Ann Adrian, who has often dealt with elder abuse in her career. “It is very subtle the way senior citizens can be taken advantage of.

“There is no community that exists without elder abuse, but you don’t hear about it that much. It’s like child abuse used to be. People need to become aware of it. It exists, but it’s not identified or talked about.”

Awareness is something the Better Business Bureau office in Lake Oswego wants to raise. In June the organization held an elder abuse awareness month, and it is continuing to publicize the problem. Kyle Kavas, public relations manager for BBB in Lake Oswego, has given many presentations on the topic.

“Elder abuse is a bigger issue than people realize,” Kavas said. “It can be physical neglect, financial exploitation, scams. But the worst thing is when it is done by family members and trusted caregivers. Seniors are a big target for solicitors who go door-to-door, on the telephone, mail fraud or fishing mail. Seniors are more trusting and they’re also at home most of the time.

“As our population of seniors goes up, crimes against them goes up. And it is often unreported.”

Kavas said financial exploitation can take the form of unusual cash withdrawals, strange high-dollar purchases or investments, modified wills and trusts, and valuable items missing.

The Gatekeeper program can help a lot in this area. A training session is planned at the ACC on Nov. 7.

“It finds people who don’t do self-reference,” Adrian said. “It trains bank tellers and other people, like beauticians, who deal with senior adults. Gatekeepers is really good at identifying people who need help.”

There is more help on the way for elder citizens. Ellen Klem is starting a nonprofit organization called Special Advocates for Vulnerable Oregonians. Klem said it would begin in Multnomah County, then expand to Clackamas and other counties. The cause of senior citizens is special to Klem, who said that 90 percent of her work with the American Bar Association involved elder abuse cases.

“The elder abuse problem is a passion of mine,” Klem said. “In cases of child guardianship there are a number of judicial hearings. But in cases of adult guardianship, the first hearing is the last time a judge hears from them.

“Our project is modeled on CASA. We can serve as the eyes and ears for the most vulnerable members of society. Nine out of 10 times a guardian is doing a great job and no intervention is necessary. But a lot of times there are financial abuse, sexual abuse and other things.”

Adrian said that individual citizens can help elders just by establishing relationships with them and observing whether they are undergoing changes that indicate decreased capabilities, such as with their clothing or the upkeep of their yards.

For guidance on dealing with elder abuse, contact the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Center on Elder Abuse at

To report elder abuse and file complaints, go to the Oregon Department of Human Service’s listing of adult protective service offices at

More assistance can be obtained at the Clackamas County Agency on Aging at 503-655-8640.

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