Taking the lead against elder abuse (with video)

'Turn Town Purple' uses dance to forge ties, raise awareness

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter



You can help

• To report abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult or a child in Washington, call the Department of Social and Health Services' toll-free EndHarm hotline anytime at 1-866-363-4276.

• For more information, visit Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.

Mary Kasper has attended several meetings on the topic of elder abuse.

When she heard that World Elder Abuse Awareness Day would be observed in Vancouver as a dance, she was raring to go.

"I thought, 'That sounds more fun than listening to someone talk.' They're both enjoyable. But dancing, I love," she said.

She was among the 150 people who attended Thursday's "Turn the Town Purple" event at the Luepke Center.

The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization launched the awareness day June 15, 2006.

This is the fifth year it has been observed in Vancouver and the second year it has involved a dance, said Dianna Kretzschmar. She organized

the event on behalf of the Friends of the Elder Justice Center and the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

"We're all here because we want to see our seniors protected in our community," Kretzschmar told the gathering. "We do not want to seem them exploited."

Last year, Washington's Adult Protective Services received 1,566 reports of abuse, neglect or exploitation of vulnerable adults in Clark County. And that figure doesn't even include complaints against employees of care facilities. Kretzschmar said elder abuse is the fastest growing crime in the United States.

Elders throughout the United States lose an estimated $2.6 billion or more annually to elder financial abuse and exploitation, money that could have been used to pay for housing, food and medical care, according to the federal Administration on Aging.

Kasper said she doesn't know anyone who has suffered elder abuse, but she's happy to raise awareness about the problem, especially if doing so involves dancing.

She wouldn't divulge her age — "That's a secret" — but Kasper had no problem keeping up with her dance partners. Organizers invited local dignitaries and elected officials. Kasper took a spin with Columbian Editor Lou Brancaccio, 62, and Clark County Commissioner David Madore, 61.

"These young ladies are such jewels," Madore said of Kasper and his other dance partners. "I just love these wonderful senior citizens."

Vancouver Councilman Larry Smith bumped into a woman he knew from his days as director of the Vancouver parks department, which runs the Leupke Center. She's now 97.

She and other seniors come for the social connection, said Smith, 71. "It makes them feel good that people care."

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said he enjoys the event, which he has attended annually.

"It helps me with my limited dance moves," said Leavitt, 42. "Most of my dance partners have been working on their moves for longer than I've been around."

Patsy Martin, 72, who has used a wheelchair since a stroke six years ago, came with her friends from Cascade Park Care Center. In her career as a nurse, some of her patients had been hurt or exploited by spouses, children and others.

"Elder abuse is something we take for granted," Martin said. She came to the dance to socialize, but also in hopes that raising awareness about the problem can begin to counteract it.

"Let's remember it all year long," Kretzschmar said. "Look out for the seniors in your life."

Erin Middlewood: 360-735-4516; erin.middlewood@columbian.com

View a video of the "turn the Town Purple" event on The Columbian's YouTube Channel.