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Opening Our Eyes to Elder Abuse

On World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, a call for better detection and action


Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, and Next Avenue joins in the effort to shine a light on this pervasive problem.

An estimated 5 million older Americans are abused, neglected or exploited every year, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse. That’s a conservative number, the organization says: for every one case that’s reported, as many as 23 are not.

“Elder mistreatment is a serious public health issue, and merits the same level of response as child abuse or domestic abuse,” says Terry Fulmer, Ph.D., president of  The John A. Hartford Foundation and a researcher and authority on elder mistreatment and abuse, in a statement last week.

She urged all of us to increase our vigilance.

“In particular, health care, emergency services, social service, and law enforcement professionals, who are on the front lines, should use every interaction with an older person to screen for possible mistreatment,” she says. “One simple yet powerful way to do this is by asking the question: ‘Are you safe at home?’

That’s especially important with older adults who may be cognitively impaired or rarely outside of the presence of a potential abuser, Fulmer says.

Manifestations of Abuse

Elder abuse comes in many forms, including physical, psychological, financial and sexual abuse.

Last month, Next Avenue published a series on abuse in the guardianship and conservatorship systems, finding that, despite decades of efforts, pernicious patterns have endured.

As the boomer population ages, the numbers of people affected by guardianship and conservatorship will rise tremendously, experts predict. With the stroke of a judge’s pen, an older adult can see his or her most basic rights stripped away. A family member or even a stranger appointed by the court will decide where they will live, how their money will be spent, what health care they will get, when they will go out and whom they are allowed to see.

Educating Ourselves

We urge everyone to learn about elder abuse and know the signs that someone may be being abused. 

We also urge the presidential candidates to recognize World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, and offer their ideas on how to address the disturbing reality many older adults live with every day.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is organized by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations.

 

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