NEW YORK (CBS 2) — It often happens behind closed doors, but now, there’s a new program to expose abuse of the elderly and train people who interact with seniors how to spot the warning signs.

Meals On Wheels workers
bring hot healthy meals to homebound seniors and are often their only link to the outside world. But they’re now being specially trained to spot abuse and neglect.

District Attorney Cy Vance is spearheading an effort to bring more attention to elder abuse and more resources to fight it.

“Having eyes inside the apartment to look around, see how things are going, is in fact an important front line for us as a community and as a prosecutors office,” he said.

For every case that’s reported, Vance says, about 20 cases go unreported because the victims either can’t fight back or don’t want to because they depend on their abusers for help.

Beth Shapiro, head of citywide Meals On Wheels, says delivery workers are perfectly poised on the front lines.

“They are in their homes knocking on their doors every day to give them their meals and to check on them. It’s a key group that we can train,” Shapiro said.

Train — by teaching delivery workers to act as watchdogs — spotting the hidden signs of elder abuse. That includes things like bruises, cuts or scrapes, dehydration, a lack of basic necessities and what to do if they suspect it is happening.

Experts said there are around 200,000 elderly people being abused in NYC right now and heading into the holidays, they expect that number to spike.

“There’s tremendous family stress and it comes to a head,” Daniel Reingold, of Hebrew Home at Riverale.

And the concerns surround not only physical abuse, but financial abuse as well. That is something Charles Cooper knows about.

His 99-year-old uncle was bilked out of more than a million dollars, but someone he thought was a trusted friend.

“He feels he was ignorant about the whole thing,” Cooper said.

If you suspect elderly abuse, you’re asked to call the city’s elderly abuse hotline at 212-335-9007.

Do you think enough safeguards are in place for vulnerable seniors?  Share your thoughts in the comments section…