March 2, 2011 -- Actor Mickey Rooney, who was recently granted court protection from his stepchildren after allegations of abuse, is expected to testify on Capitol Hill today that he "felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated."
"For years I suffered silently, unable to muster the courage to seek the help I knew I needed," according to remarks he's scheduled to deliver in Washington on the topic of elder abuse before a Senate committee on aging.
Rooney, 90, who has had one of the longest careers of any actor, filed a case against stepson Chris Aber and stepdaughter Christina Aber last month charging verbal, emotional and financial abuse, and alleging that they denied him such basic necessities as food and medicine.
"All I want to do is live a peaceful life, to regain my life and be happy," Rooney said in a statement to his fans. "I pray to God each day to protect us, help us endure and guide those other senior citizens who are also suffering."
The goal of the senate hearing, entitled "Justice for All: Ending Elder Abuse, Neglect and Financial Exploitation," is to draw attention to the widely underreported problem and coordinate federal, state and local efforts to combat it.
"It's a really sad but important issue and Mr. Rooney is definitely lending his star power to it," committee spokesman Joe Bonfiglio said.
In his testimony, Rooney will say, "I felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated. But, above all, I felt helpless. For years I suffered silently, unable to muster the courage to seek the help I knew I needed."
Bonfiglio said he hopes Rooney's testimony will encourage other victims to stand up for themselves.
"I think a lot of people are going to see Mickey Rooney and say, 'If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone,'" he said. "If someone is currently a victim, I think his testimony will give them the courage to stand up and get help."
Elder Abuse: Taking Advantage of the Aged
According to court documents, Chris and Christina Aber allegedly kept Rooney "effectively a prisoner in his own home" through threats, intimidation and harassment. Rooney has also accused the Abers of controlling his finances, locking his refrigerator and taking his passport and other identification.
"He pulled out his wallet, he opened it and showed me," Rooney's attorney, Bruce Ross, said. "There wasn't a single card -- driver's license, ID, AARP card, shopping card, social security card. There was literally nothing."
Rooney was granted temporary restraining orders on Feb. 15, but will have to appear in court on April 5 if he wants them extended for three years. A Los Angeles Superior Court Judge also appointed a temporary conservator of Rooney's estate.
While elder abuse of this magnitude is relatively rare, geriatric experts say, instances of some kind of abuse and neglect, whether psychological, physical, sexual or financial, are a major concern among aging populations.
According to the American Psychological Association, an estimated 2.1 million older Americans become victims somewhere on the spectrum of abuse.
Debra Greenberg of the Gerontology Division at Montefiore Medical Center in New York says this kind of "extreme case" has only come across her desk a couple of times. More often than not, elder abuse has to do with unintentional neglect from family members who are ignorant of the proper ways to care for an aging individual.
Self-neglect, which occurs when the elderly fail to follow medical advice or otherwise care of themselves, is a leader in the reporting of elder abuse. Financial abuse, when younger family members misuse the elderly person's assets, follows closely. According to the National Elder Abuse Center study, self- and financial-abuse comprise 21 percent of elder abuse cases.
And abuse has consequences that reach beyond an assault on the quality of life of the elderly: Studies suggest that older people who have been abused tend to die earlier than those who have not been, even in the absence of chronic or life-threatening illness, according to the American Psychological Association.
Elder Abuse: Taking Advantage of the Aged
"If you see abuse of any kind going on, there are people you can turn to," Greenberg said. "If you think this is life and death, obviously call 911, but if it's ongoing, most departments for the aging can get you where you need to go."
More information on elder abuse, including how to report it, can be found on the National Center on Elder Abuse web site.