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Despite our best efforts to prolong the aging process, “wear and tear” on the human body is inevitable. At the same time, progress and innovation in the fields of science and medicine have increased the quality of life for those reaching their later years. Decades ago, it was a feat to reach the age of 80 years. Now, that benchmark is frequently surpassed by the elderly, who are encouraged to eat right, exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle well into their later years.
But even with this vast knowledge and experience at our fingertips, we are simply prolonging a universal process. Our bodies still deteriorate, just more slowly than in the past. When this happens, families must make decisions for their loved ones based on their medical needs. Admitting an elderly relative to a nursing home or assisted living facility is sometimes the best available option. These facilities are designed to provide professional care for those who are physically or mentally incapable of taking care of themselves. Far too often, however, the people entrusted with administering compassionate and skilled care fall far short of expectations. Elder abuse, which can be physical, emotional, or sexual, is a frequent problem in American nursing homes.
In 2006, an 89-year-old man named Albert Wagner was living at the Mid-Coast Senior Health Center in Brunswick, Maine. Mr. Wagner was admitted into the facility by his family on account of his severe dementia. He was also legally blind and partially deaf.
Mr. Wagner’s granddaughter, Kate Marro, made weekly visits to him in the nursing home. During these visits, Mr. Wagner told her about sexual favors being forced upon him in his room. Kate believed that his dementia was the cause of his seemingly unbelievable stories. Soon thereafter, however, a nursing home employee caught a man named Charles Trout performing sexual acts on Mr. Wagner. Brunswick Police found that Trout, a man in his 70s at the time, had been previously convicted of three crimes, including assault and battery, trespassing, and lewd and lascivious behavior. Nursing home officials and police investigations later revealed that the sexual abuse had been going on for several months before Mr. Trout’s terrible deeds were discovered.
More than 33,000 elderly people are abused each year in Maine nursing homes, according to the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention. In the aftermath of this terrible ordeal, Kate Marro worked with law enforcement and several governmental agencies to rewrite the laws regarding the definition of a sex offender. Prior to the abuse of Mr. Wagner, an abuser was forced to register as a sex offender only if his or her victim was 18 years old or younger. The law now requires the same registration for abuse inflicted upon people who are dependent upon the care of others.