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Elder abuse is a "real crime" but can be stopped if people will report it, said Assistant Attorney General Kristine M. Knowlton.

Knowlton was the keynote speaker at Thursday's caregiver conference at the Olympus Hotel in Salt Lake City. Sponsored by Premier Home Care Services, this was the first conference of its kind in Utah."This is the year for elder abuse," Knowlton says. Legislation passed in the 1996 session of the Utah State Legislature moved elder abuse from the human services code to the criminal code. "The law is there now," Knowlton says.

Specializing in child abuse prosecution, the Children's Justice Division now focuses on people "6 years old to 86 years old," Knowlton says. One of the division's projects for the elderly is the "Safe at Home Project."

"Every Utahn has a right to be safe at home" is the project's motto. Knowlton says the elderly are more likely to be exploited by members of their own family than an institution.

According to Salt Lake County Aging Services, 15,300 elderly Utahns are abused, neglected or exploited every year. Only one of 14 cases is reported. Reasons for this include not knowing who to call or fear of getting involved.

Utah law states that any person who believes a disabled or elder adult is being abused, neglected or exploited must immediately report the situation to the local adult protective services office or to local authorities. All reports are confidential, and people making reports in good faith are immune from civil liability.

"Break the silence of elder abuse," Knowlton encouraged the approximately 50 caregivers, professionals and exhibitors at the conference. "People are the answer to these problems."

Conference ideas derived from a survey sent to about 100 people, according to Alicia Blatter, communications manager for Premier Home Health Care Services. Feedback identified for organizers the major issues facing caregivers.

Stress is one problem for caregivers. Innovative Caregiving Resources, one of 10 exhibitors at the conference, displayed its product, "Video Respite," which is used to entertain individuals with Alzheimer's disease or dementia while giving caregivers a break.

This conference was a "stress reliever" for Virginia Duke, Salt Lake City. Her sister, Jean LeMaster, Salt Lake City, says being a caregiver impacts every aspect of her life and takes away a vast amount of time from personal life.

Caregivers need help, says Deanna Merchant, Smithfield, Cache County. They search for resources like geriatric care managers, help for those "who don't know what to do anymore," says Kim Dumas, care manager for Golden Years Consultants.

In one session, Donna Olsen, Roy, learned that the average woman will spend 18 years taking care of children and 19 years caring for her adult parents.