Reading Dear Abby this morning, I learned that today, June 15, is World Elder Abuse Day. It’s a subject close to my heart. As President of my own licensed home care services agency, ElderSource, Inc., I witnessed the extreme pressures that can lead to potentially abusive situations, even among loving families who are doing their best to provide quality care for their elders.* Unfortunately, most seniors are not nearly as well off as our clients were.
The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that as many as one in ten elders experience some form of abuse, but only one in five cases gets reported. They define elder abuse as “neglect, exploitation or ‘painful or harmful’ mistreatment of anyone 65 or older,” and the abuse can be financial, physical or psychological.
We’ve all heard the horror stories that surface regularly in the news – the abusive caregivers, the financial scams that can cost gullible elders their homes. Perhaps less obvious is the neglect that can stem from isolation, especially when dementia, mental illness or substance abuse are involved. Elders living alone, far from involved family, can suffer from self-neglect when they’re unable or unwilling to care for their own needs.
My 81-year-old brother in the Bronx has a wonderful support network of neighbors he’s come to know over 30 years in the same apartment building, but suburban neighborhoods of single-family dwellings don’t offer the same comfortable familiarity. Personally, I plan to age in place – our home is already too small for all our stuff, and I can’t picture downsizing any further. But it’s not a prospect I look forward to with great enthusiasm, and it’s all too easy to envision myself as a neglected recluse in some not so distant future.
What can you do to help prevent elder abuse, including self-neglect? First, learn more about how to recognize the signs and symptoms by visiting informative websites like the following:
Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect, University of California at Irvine (www.centeronelderabuse.org)
National Center on Elder Abuse (http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/)
Keep in contact with your older friends, neighbors and relatives so as to help decrease isolation, a risk factor for mistreatment. Be observant for signs of abuse or neglect.
Report possible mistreatment or neglect to your local adult protective services agency or to 911.
Contact your local Area Agency on Aging office to help identify possible sources of support like Meals on Wheels.
Volunteer, either formally or informally. With elderly neighbors living on either side of us, my husband and I drove them to doctors’ appointments and ran errands. I’m grateful for the stories they told me and the closeness we developed near the ends of their life spans, and I hope my own younger neighbors may reciprocate someday. More formally, as administrator for the Memorial Society of the Hudson-Mohawk Region, I help educate people about affordable funerals and how to avoid one of the most common financial rip-offs that plague our seniors.
But why get involved in yet another cause, when there are so many clamoring for our attention? Because we’re all part of a beloved community, both globally and locally, and the person who needs your help may be as close as your next-door neighbor.
*My experience as President and CEO of ElderSource inspired my novel Eldercide, which addresses the question, “When quality of life declines with age and illness, who decides if you’re better off dead?” The book explores elder abuse taken to the extreme, but fortunately it’s pure fiction – at least from my perspective. Unfortunately, the plot is all too plausible. You can read more about Eldercide on this site.