May is Older Americans Month, honoring the value that elders contribute to our communities. It also provides an opportunity to elevate the rights of elders to live free from abuse. Although research on the incidence and prevalence of elder abuse is still very limited, it is estimated that as much as 11% of US elders report experiencing some type of abuse or neglect. Older victims may be abused by intimate partners, adult children, grandchildren or other family members, caregivers or others in positions of authority. In a majority of cases, the perpetrator is the victim’s family member, most often an intimate partner (Acierno et al., 2009; Lifespan of Greater Rochester, 2011). Advocates in programs addressing domestic and sexual violence often serve older adults and seek support in the continual process of enhancing their services, outreach efforts, and educational programs to best respond to their unique needs and experiences.
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is an excellent opportunity to raise awareness of and educate others about abuse, neglect, and exploitation of older adults. However, preventing and responding to elder abuse should be an ongoing, concerted effort throughout the year. Whether you are looking to organize an activity in observance of WEADD this June, or are thinking about ways to be part of the solution year-round, here are some suggestions for joining advocates across the world in taking a stand against elder abuse:
Keep in contact with older relatives, friends, neighbors and acquaintances. Learn the dynamics and warning signs of elder abuse. The Red Flags of Elder Abuse, which is available in several languages, is a helpful handout to have handy. Print copies and display in your workplace, place of worship or volunteer service, or elsewhere.
Reach out and have a conversation with someone you know who is being abused. Let them know they are not alone, they are not responsible for the abuse, and there are places they can go for help. Help them connect with a local domestic violence program or with aging services in the community. Help them plan for their safety. Information is available on working with older victims and safety planning on the NCALL website.
Report suspected abuse of older vulnerable adults. You may need to contact the Adult Protective Services (APS) agency in the state where the elder resides. For state reporting numbers, visit the NCEA website or call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116. If you know that someone is in a life-threatening situation or in immediate danger, call 911.
Reach out to local programs in your community (for example, the area agency on aging, aging and disability centers, “meals on wheels” programs, and others) that are available to assist older adults in maintaining their health, wellbeing and independence. These programs can greatly benefit from your financial donations or volunteer time. The online Eldercare Locator, by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), is your first step to finding resources for older adults in any U.S. community.
Submit an editorial or press release to your local newspaper to create awareness of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Sample press releases for WEAAD are available online for your reference. Resources for engaging the media around “awareness day” observances are also available to support your efforts.
Remember that elder abuse affects older adults regardless of socio-economic status, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, and other cultural markers. Reach out for culturally specific resources that are available to support your efforts in being inclusive of diverse communities in your prevention and awareness work. For example, SAGE: Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders is a national voice on LGBT aging issues, the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) is the leading organization working to improve the lives of Hispanic older adults, and the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA) advocates for American Indian and Alaska Native Elders.
Wear purple on June 15th! Demonstrate your support by standing in solidarity with others around the world in wearing something purple on WEEAD – to show that you care about ending elder abuse and neglect.
How are you observing World Elder Abuse Awareness Day this year? Please share your creative ideas!
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