Do you want to live in a community in which we can all age with dignity and live free from abuse?
That’s the question we should ask ourselves this World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15.
The answer seems obvious, but far too many are denied these fundamental rights because of social isolation, which puts older people in our community at risk of elder abuse. A recent survey conducted in Delaware County found that three out of every 100 older adults have felt abused. Eight out of every 100 have been a victim of a financial scam.
Elder abuse is a broad term, and is often misunderstood. It includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse, as well as exploitation, neglect and abandonment. The consequences are grave — older adults who are abused are twice as likely to be hospitalized, four times as likely to go into nursing homes, and three times as likely to die.
Our communities are at higher risk of elder abuse when they’re weak or fragmented — when we don’t know each other well or regularly interact with each other. If neighbors don’t greet each other or chat about the weather, they aren’t likely to express concern when the mail piles up next door or they overhear an angry dispute.
We all depend on our communities, but barriers still exist. Immigrants and ethnic minorities face unique hurdles to fitting into a community. Differences in language, religion, and cultural traditions contribute to the vibrancy of our society. However, when they’re misunderstood or unappreciated, they weaken our communities, putting families at higher risk of elder abuse.
We must come together today — and every day — to do right by ourselves and each other.
Creating supportive, inclusive communities is essential to preventing elder abuse. When differences are valued, they bring together cultures and strengthen connections across generations. United communities are better able to weather difficulties that may come with age, from memory loss and reduced mobility to changing family roles and financial strain. Embracing ethnic and cultural diversity not only increases community vitality, it also protects all people against elder abuse and helps us live up to our national ideal of justice for all.
Here are five simple steps everyone can take to strengthen our communities and prevent elder abuse:
1. Listen to older adults and caregivers to understand their challenges and provide support.
2. Educate one another about the signs of abuse and how to get help.
3. Report suspected abuse or neglect immediately. (Delaware County Adult Protective Services: 740-833-2340. Callers are able to make anonymous reports, and multiple reports from sources with firsthand knowledge can be beneficial to authorities.)
4. Build a community that fosters social connections and supports.
5. Reach out to professional services for support.
Karen Waltermeyer is the client services manager at SourcePoint. Learn more at MySourcePoint.org or call 740-363-6677.