Each year, an estimated 5 million older person are abused, neglected, and exploited. Sunday, June 15, 2014 is the ninth annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, an educational opportunity launched by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations to raise awareness about the issue and its warning signs.
What is Elder Abuse?
The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) defines elder abuse as “intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or trusted individual that leads to, or may lead to, harm of a vulnerable elder.” This can include physical abuse, neglect, emotional or psychological abuse, financial abuse and exploitation, sexual abuse and abandonment.
What Can Be Done About Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse is pervasive, with organizations such as NCEA estimating that one in ten elders may experience some type of abuse. The good news is that everybody can do something to help prevent the continuation of elder abuse, as you can see in the following resources.
“The most important thing you can do to protect your loves ones from elder abuse is to pay attention and read up on the red flags,” Tara A. Ellis, CEO and President, Meals on Wheels for WNY, said. “If you see sudden changes – such as a decrease in standard of living, a drop in personal hygiene, or a significant change in mood or behavior – these may be indicators of elder abuse or, potentially, of other medical conditions.”
“Our 1,500 meal delivery volunteers form one part of the puzzle – helping to protect our clients from elder abuse as part of their daily well-being check,” Ellis said. “Whenever they notice a change – whether in hygiene, eating habits, mood or environment – they report it back to our professional staff. If our Social Workers have any indication that there is an issue or potential elder abuse going on they immediately engage caregivers and community partners in making sure that the senior is safe and can continue to age independently at home.”
You can use that same power of observation with your loved ones. If you see potential signs of abuse you can talk to your loved one about your concerns as a first step and try to see if there is a logical reason for the observed change (e.g., perhaps one’s mood has changed because it’s the anniversary of losing a loved one). Alternately, you can talk to your family doctor and see if he or she sees any indicators of abuse.
Ultimately, if you suspect elder abuse, you should report it to the appropriate authorities so that they can investigate. For community-based individuals, you would call your local Adult Protective Services. For those in a facility, you would call your local long-term care ombudsman. You do not need to prove there is an issue; you simply need to be alert and raise potential concerns to the appropriate authorities. You can find contact information and more at www.ncea.aoa.gov.