June 15th is designated as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. This is an opportunity for communities all across the world to come together and promote a better understanding of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of older adults. The focus is to raise awareness of the social, cultural, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, more than one million people age 65 or older in America alone have suffered abuse. It is also estimated that for each case of reported elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation, about five more incidents go unreported.
Elder abuse is the willful infliction of physical pain, injury or mental anguish, unreasonable confinement, or the willful deprivation by a caretaker of services necessary to maintain mental and physical health. Elder abuse takes many forms, including:
- Neglect or isolation
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse and exploitation
- Emotional or psychological abuse including verbal abuse and threats
Elders who have been abused have a 300% higher risk of death when compared to those who have not been mistreated. While likely under-reported, estimates of elder financial abuse and fraud costs to older Americans range from $2.9 billion to $36.5 billion annually. Yet, financial exploitation is self-reported at rates higher than emotional, physical, and sexual abuse or neglect. Warning signs of elder abuse include the following:
- Physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment: Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, burns
- Emotional abuse: Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, or unusual depression; strained or tense relationships; frequent arguments between the caregiver and older adult
- Financial abuse: Sudden changes in financial situations
- Neglect: Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, unusual weight loss
- Verbal or emotional abuse: Belittling, threats, or other uses of power and control by individuals
If an older adult is in immediate, life-threatening danger, call 911. Anyone who suspects that an older adult is being mistreated should contact a local Adult Protective Services office within the Department of Social Services, Long-Term Care Ombudsman, or police.
How can elder abuse be prevented?
Educating seniors, professionals, caregivers, and the public on abuse is critical to prevention. If you’re an older adult, you can stay safe by:
- Taking care of your health.
- Seeking professional help for drug, alcohol, and depression concerns and urging family members to get help for these problems.
- Attending support groups for spouses and learning about domestic violence services.
- Planning for your own future. With a power of attorney or a living will, you can address health care decisions now to avoid confusion and family problems later. Seek independent advice from someone you trust before signing any documents.
- Staying active in the community and connected with friends and family. This will decrease social isolation, which has been connected to elder abuse.
- Posting and opening your own mail.
- Not giving personal information over the phone.
- Using direct deposit for all checks.
- Having your own phone.
- Reviewing your will periodically.
- Knowing your rights. If you engage the services of a paid or family caregiver, you have the right to voice your preferences and concerns. If you live in a nursing home, call your Long-Term Care Ombudsman. The ombudsman is your advocate and has the power to intervene.
Regional Elder Abuse Awareness Events and Efforts for 2019:
Carteret County: Digital billboard campaign
Craven County: Newspaper media campaign
Duplin County: Elder Abuse Awareness Walk
Greene County: Elder Abuse Awareness Walk
Jones County: Info distribution at Health Fair
Lenoir County: Elder Abuse Awareness Walk
Onslow County: Elder Abuse Awareness Walk
Pamlico County: Digital billboard campaign
Wayne County: Elder Abuse Awareness Symposium