Over the course of my service as Assistant Secretary for Aging, one imperative has stood above all others: preventing elder abuse. I talk about it every chance I get, and it is something we all need to talk about. Preventing elder abuse must be part of the national conversation about how we care for older Americans.
That’s why, as our nation prepares to observe World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on June 15, 2014, I hope you will join me in seeking out opportunities to raise awareness about elder abuse and neglect.
Unfortunately, as the world population of older people grows, so does the problem of elder abuse. This is a global health problem and it is a community health issue. It affects people around the world and it affects our neighbors. In fact, research published in the American Journal of Public Health found that one in 10 Americans over the age of 60 had experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse—or some form of neglect—in the previous year. This figure does not include financial fraud, a crime to which older Americans are particularly vulnerable.
Among the growing population of older Americans, the number of people who are living past the age of 85 is increasing. Many of these individuals live with some form of dementia. Cognitive impairment puts older people at significant risk for elder abuse. A 2009 study found that nearly half of people with dementia had experienced some form of abuse. And unfortunately, many of these people are not equipped to report it.
We have made significant strides in raising awareness of elder abuse—for example, last year the ACL held an international event at the United Nations co-sponsored by the United States and Canada in honor of WEAAD. But we need to do more to prevent elder abuse and bring abusers to justice. Here are three simple steps every organization and family can take to prevent elder abuse:
- Learn to recognize the signs of elder abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse, a program of the Administration on Aging, developed a helpful Red Flags of Abuse Factsheet (PDF) that lists the signs of and risk factors for abuse and neglect.
- Raise awareness in your community by taking part in events such as WEAAD. We can help; ACL’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Tool Kit contains resources to help you engage your community, plan events, educate others, raise awareness about this serious problem, and empower people to action to end elder abuse.
- Report elder abuse when you see it. To report suspected abuse, contact your local adult protective services agency. For state reporting numbers, call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116.
This year, as we observe WEAAD, please join me in taking a stand to ensure that all older Americans are safe from harm and neglect. For their contributions to our nation, to our society, and to our lives, we owe them nothing less.
It starts with one person and one action. It starts with you.
To learn more about how to get involved and make a difference in preventing elder abuse, visit the ACL World Elder Abuse Awareness Day section on this website.