My parents taught my brother and me to respect our elders. I have to ask what values others’ parents were teaching when I read that five million Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation each year.

We taught our children from a very early age that bullying was unacceptable. They were never to be the bully; if they were bullied or saw someone being bullied, they should defend themselves. Children and adults are told if they “see it, say it” and report to the authorities when they see a crime. So why do experts believe for every one case of elder abuse or neglect reported there are at least 23 cases[1] that go unreported?

June 15th, 2016, was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Initiated in 2006, this day was set aside by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and World Health Organization of the United Nations to focus attention on the issue. Where were you on June 15th?

Elder abuse is defined as an intentional or neglectful act by a caregiver or “trusted” individual that leads to, or may lead to, harm of a vulnerable elder. If you are a caregiver, family member, peer, or an elder, you should be aware of the primary elder abuse risk factors[2]:

  • Low social support.
  • Dementia — a 2009 study revealed close to 50% of people with dementia experience some kind of abuse.
  • Experience of previous traumatic events—including interpersonal and domestic violence—has been found to increase the risk for emotional, sexual, and financial mistreatment.
  • Functional impairment and poor physical health are associated with greater risk of abuse among older persons.
  • Women appear to be more likely to be abused than men.
  • Younger age may be associated with greater risk of abuse. Adults in their late 50s and 60s are more likely to report verbal mistreatment or financial mistreatment than older adults.
  • Living with a large number of household members other than a spouse is associated with an increased risk of abuse, especially financial abuse.
  • Lower income or poverty has been found to be associated with elder abuse.
  • The following factors have been found to be associated with financial exploitation of older adults:
    • Non-use of social services
    • Need for ADL (Activities of Daily Living) assistance
    • Poor self-rated health
    • No spouse/partner
    • African-American race
    • Lower age

Working with elders, you learn very quickly that aging is not for the timid. Navigating the aging journey requires strength, endurance, planning, and a team of specialists. If you feel that you are being abused or know of an elder being abused, say something. One resource is the 24-hour toll-free Adult Abuse Hotline at 1.800.992.6978.

[1] World Health Organization, 2016.

[2] Source: Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Elder Abuse, Administration on Aging.

Reprinted from The Voice of Aging Website.

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