As Americans, we believe that people of all ages and abilities deserve to be treated fairly and equally and to live free from abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation. Tomorrow, on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, we join the world in recognizing the importance of elders to our communities and standing up for their rights. Here are five ways you can join this fight.
1. Break Down Isolation
We cannot talk about elder abuse without talking about social isolation. Elders without strong social networks face a greater risk of abuse, neglect, or exploitation. It is up to all of us to ensure that our communities are supporting and engaging older adults. One simple way to do this is by staying in touch with the older adults in your community. So go ahead and knock on your neighbor’s door just to say “hi” or start an intergenerational book club or movie night. You can also support community efforts to empower elders and fight isolation; act by volunteering to deliver meals or serve as a long-term care ombudsman.
2. Learn to Spot “Red Flags”
There are a number of “red flags” that could suggest the presence of elder abuse. Examples include:
- Isolation (especially by a caregiver);
- Unpaid bills or utilities that have been turned off;
- Unusual or quick changes in a will or other financial documents;
- Missing medications; and
- Bruises or welts (especially on the face).
Even if you are not certain abuse is taking place, you can report any suspicions of abuse so a professional can investigate.
3. Connect With Resources in Your Community
There are a variety of local resources in your community that help address elder abuse and social isolation. Adult Protective Services agencies investigate, and can respond to, suspected abuse. Long-Term Care Ombudsman programs advocate for residents of care facilities. Area Agency on Aging and Aging and Disability Resource Centers can offer meals, health and wellness programs, and caregiver support programs, and Older Americans Act Legal Services Providers can offer legal help. The Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116) can connect you to all of these programs.
4. Watch Out for Scams and Fraud
Whether it is a foreign prince or a mystery caller with an exclusive “investment opportunity,” scammers steal billions of dollars from seniors every year. Here are a few tips to help you protect yourself:
- Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry online or call 888-382-1222 to reduce telemarketing calls.
- If you suspect Social Security fraud, report it online or call 800-269-0271.
- Never give your credit card, banking, Social Security, Medicare, or other personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call.
- Check with a lawyer or trusted family member before signing any document you do not completely understand.
5. Talk About It
Many older adults who face abuse, neglect, or exploitation feel guilty or ashamed about their experience. One study found that for every reported case of elder abuse, 23 cases go unreported. We must become more comfortable talking about abuse in a way that makes clear that everyone, no matter what their age, is worthy of dignity and respect. Victims should never feel embarrassed or feel that they are responsible for the abuse they experienced.
The abuse, neglect, and exploitation of older adults goes against everything we stand for as a country. Tomorrow, as we recognize World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, and throughout the year, let’s take a stand for justice. You can find more resources at the National Center on Elder Abuse, an Administration for Community Living resource center.