As Americans, “justice for all” is a concept we embrace. Yet every year, an estimated five million Americans experience elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation. That number equates to one in every ten older adults. Elder abuse is an injustice that affects everything from our public health to our economic resources.
This Saturday, June 15, is World Elder Abuse Awareness day, an opportunity for people and organizations to take action to protect older adults. This day raises awareness about elder abuse, why it occurs, and what we can do to stop it. Working together, we can build the social supports that can prevent elder abuse and keep us all safe as we age.
There are several simple, actionable steps we can all take to protect our elders from abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
For those of us who know and love older adults, it is important to learn the signs of elder abuse. The American Society on Aging suggests looking for physical signs like bruises and welts, as well as behavioral signs like anger, fear, anxiety, nervousness or depression. Elders who are being abused may withdraw, avoid eye contact, suddenly lose weight, experience mood swings, or may startle easily. They may also change the way they show affection, or have nightmares and difficulty sleeping.
Preventing isolation is another way to protect our friends, family, and neighbors. Social isolation is one of the most common risk factors for elder abuse. Simply calling or visiting our older loved ones provides safety and reassurance. You can also prevent isolation by volunteering with an agency that provides rides, companionship, or recreation for older adults. Making these connections gives us an opportunity to listen to our elders’ thoughts, concerns, and decisions.
There are ways older adults can protect themselves from potential abuse, neglect and exploitation. The first way they can do so is to plan. For example, you can reduce the risk of potential financial exploitation by signing up for direct deposit or getting your estate plan in place.
You can also protect yourself from abuse by being cautious. Get on the National Do Not Call Registry to reduce telemarketing calls. Consult with someone you trust before making large purchases or investments. Check with an attorney before signing documents that you don’t completely understand. And always remember your mother’s advice—if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
For everyone reading this, I have one final piece of information for you: If you suspect abuse, neglect or exploitation, report it. Our elders have a right to be safe. In fact, making a report isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also the law. In the State of Florida, every single person who knows of abuse or suspects abuse is considered a “mandated reporter,” which means that you are legally obligated to report it to the Florida Department of Children and Families’ abuse hotline at 800-96-ABUSE (800-962-2873). Reporting abuse is easy, and it’s also confidential.
This year, don’t let June 15 be just another Saturday on your calendar. Instead, take a few moments to commemorate World Elder Abuse Awareness day by reaching out to an older adult, or by taking actions to protect yourself. If you need resources to help you do so, please contact the Area Agency on Aging for Southwest Florida’s Elder Helpline at 866-41-ELDER (866-413-5337). Our specialists can connect you to resources and assistance, as well as volunteer openings and recreation opportunities.
If we work collectively this June 15, we can all support our national ideal of “justice for all.”
Sherry Young, Elder Abuse Prevention Coordinator
Area Agency on Aging for Southwest Florida