A day-long “summit” underway in Des Moines is focused on the topic of elder abuse. Governor Branstad addressed summit participants early this morning.

“My charge to you today is for you all to help us empower aging Iowans and to help us strengthen our laws and increase the knowledge and sensitivity of those that are working to identify and detect elder abuse,” Branstad said.

The summit was convened as a result of a bill the governor signed into law this past April. The law calls for a “comprehensive review” of elder abuse in Iowa and the laws for those found guilty of abusing, neglecting or exploiting Iowans who are over the age of 59.

“Our state’s committment to protecting and empowering aging Iowans is very important and very clear and we are one of the leaders in this because we do have a significant share of our population that is aging,” Branstad said.

AUDIO of Branstad’s remarks.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 14.9 percent of Iowa residents are in the 65 and older category.

“Aging, well, first of all — it beats the alternative,” Branstad said, drawing laughter from the crowd, “and we want to do it in the best way possible. We want to enjoy our age and…I guess I’ve entered the ranks of the seniors in the sense that I am 65 years old.”

Iowa now ranks as the 9th oldest state in the country. In the last half of 2011 there were almost 3300 reports of abuse to dependent adults in Iowa, ranging from denial of care and exploitation to physical and sexual abuse. Branstad said part of today’s summit will focus on ways to make the general public more aware of the signs of elder abuse, as the vast majority of Iowa’s elderly citizens do not live in a facility that’s exclusively for the elderly, like a nursing home.

“Over 95 percent of seniors live in their communities, not in facilities, so we have a lot of people living in their own homes and that’s great,” Branstad said. “We want to keep it that way.”

Several state agency directors, as well as the state’s insurance commissioner and attorney general, are participating in today’s summit, along with dozens of people who are advocates for the elderly.