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What is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day?

On June 15th, the world recognizes World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). This day serves as a critical reminder about the mistreatment of older adults. Elder abuse can take many forms and can happen to anyone. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is a call to action for individuals, organizations, and communities to work together to prevent abuse and ensure a safe and dignified life for our valued elders.

What is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse encompasses any intentional act or neglect by another person that causes harm to an elder individual. This harm can be physical, emotional, or financial. Sadly, it’s a widespread problem, affecting millions of older adults each year. There are five main types of elder abuse: neglect or isolation, physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse and exploitation, and emotional or psychological abuse.

It is important to note that definitions of elder abuse can vary by state. You can find each state’s exploitation laws through The Sketchley Method. If you suspect that either you or someone you love is experiencing elder abuse, please contact your local Adult Protective Service agency and make a report as soon as possible.

What Are the Causes of Elder Abuse?

Social isolation, a growing concern in our compartmentalized society, is a major risk factor for elder abuse. As communities become less connected, older adults can become increasingly withdrawn, making them more vulnerable to neglect and exploitation.

Elder abuse transcends social boundaries. It impacts people of all socioeconomic groups, cultures, and races. It can occur anywhere, from the familiar surroundings of a person’s home to long-term care facilities, and even hospitals.

While everyone is at risk, certain factors increase an elder’s vulnerability. Women and individuals over 80 are statistically more likely to experience abuse. Additionally, dementia, mental health issues (in either the elder or the perpetrator), substance abuse, social isolation, and poor physical health all contribute to a higher risk.

What Are the Signs of Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse can manifest in several ways, leaving a trail of physical, behavioral, and financial signs.

Physical signs may include:

  • Dehydration: Look for dry mouth, sunken eyes, and decreased urination.
  • Missing daily living aids: Glasses, hearing aids, or walkers that are frequently misplaced or unavailable.
  • Unsanitary conditions: Torn, stained, or bloody clothing, unkempt appearance, or signs of bedsores.
  • Unexplained medical needs: Untreated wounds, infections, or medication errors.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): Particularly concerning for elders who are not sexually active, suggesting potential abuse.

Behavioral signs often involve a change from the elder’s baseline behavior:

  • Increased fear or anxiety: Watch for unusual nervousness, hesitation to speak freely, or flinching at touch.
  • Social isolation: Withdrawal from friends and family gatherings, a decline in phone calls or visits, or a reluctance to leave the house.
  • Changes in behavior or sleep patterns: Sudden changes in mood, confusion, depression, or difficulty sleeping.
  • Loss of interest in activities: A previously active elder who suddenly abandons hobbies or social engagements.

Financial signs can indicate exploitation of the elder’s resources:

  • Fraudulent signatures: Review bank statements or financial documents for unauthorized activity.
  • Unusual spending patterns: Sudden large purchases, missing funds, or unexplained changes in wills or power of attorney documents.
  • Unpaid bills: Previously responsible elders who are neglecting essential bills like utilities or medical care.
  • Repeated withdrawals or checks in round amounts for cash

By recognizing these signs, we can become better advocates for elder safety and intervene before abuse escalates.

Why Does Elder Abuse Feel Like an Invisible Problem?

Elder abuse thrives in silence. Shame, fear, and a culture of ageism all contribute to a hidden epidemic. Victims are often reluctant to report abuse for fear of reprisal, especially if the abuser is a family member or caregiver they depend on.  They may worry about being placed in a nursing home, feel guilt or blame, or simply be unaware or in denial of their situation. Additionally, cognitive impairments can make it difficult for them to speak up, and sometimes their reports are dismissed.

Let’s challenge the stigma surrounding elder abuse and empower our elders to seek help. By creating safe spaces for them to speak out and raising awareness about this crime, we can bring elder abuse out of the shadows.

How Can We Prevent Elder Abuse?

Fortunately, elder abuse isn’t inevitable. By fostering strong connections and staying informed, we can create a safety net for our valued elders. Regularly check in with your elderly friends, neighbors, and family members by phone, video call, or in-person visits. Encourage them to stay socially active and connected to friends and family. Educate yourself on the signs of abuse, both physical and emotional. Finally, empower them with knowledge of their rights and resources available, so they feel comfortable speaking up if something feels wrong. By working together, we can build a supportive community where elders can thrive and feel safe.

Do I Need to Report Elder Abuse?

Knowing when and how to report is crucial. While reporting requirements vary by state, many professionals who work with elders are mandated by law to report suspected abuse.  In Florida, for instance, everyone is a mandatory reporter.  You can find a list of state reporting hotlines and websites through The Sketchley Method, or by googling “[your state] adult protective services hotline”. Some states have one main line for all adult abuse reports, while some states have specific hotlines for each county.

Don’t hesitate to take action. If you suspect abuse, report it immediately to Adult Protective Services, a Long-Term Care Ombudsman, or law enforcement. These agencies can investigate the situation and ensure the elder’s safety.  For emergencies or life-threatening situations, call 911 or your local police department.

Need More Information on Elder Abuse?

Visit the website of the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) or contact them by phone at 1-855-500-3537.

If you or a loved one have been or are a victim of elder abuse, immediately contact your local authorities. If you need help recovering assets or seeking legal protections, contact an elder law attorney. For a consultation with our office, please call (850) 894-0152.