Elder Abuse Awareness Day Promotes Local Resources

Many agencies and organizations across the world observed World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15. It’s a day in which community activists raise awareness about abuse of the elderly and try to teach community residents what they can do to help someone who they suspect is being abused.

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), relatively few cases are identified, as elders are often reluctant to report the mistreatment. Experts estimate that only one in six cases or fewer are reported, which means that very few seniors who have been abused get the help they need. According to the NCEA, New York Adult Protective Services received about 25,000 referrals statewide in 1997. About two-thirds of the reported incidents involved adults aged 60 and older. According to a recent report published by the Older Women’s League, the fastest growing segment of America’s population is those 85 and up. During the twentieth century, the population of Americans age 85 and older grew from 100,000 to 4.2 million. In this age group, women outnumber men by 2.6 to 1.

Unfortunately, abusers are often spouses, family members, personal acquaintances, or professionals in positions of trust; or opportunistic strangers who prey on the vulnerable. Types of abuse include physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, abandonment, neglect, financial or material exploitation.

Local agencies like Vera House help draw attention to the problem by observing World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in partnership with Onondaga County. Vera House’s mission is to end all domestic and sexual violence and that includes elder abuse. Vera House educators can provide resources for those who are abused or who know someone who is being abused.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA) most incidents of elder abuse don’t happen in a nursing home. Occasionally, there are shocking reports of nursing home residents who are mistreated by the staff. Such abuse does occur but it is not the most common type of elder abuse. At any one time, only about 4 percent of older adults live in nursing homes, and the vast majority of nursing home residents have their physical needs met without experiencing abuse or neglect.

Most elder abuse and neglect takes place at home. The great majority of older people live on their own or with their spouses, children, siblings or other relatives—not in institutional settings. When elder abuse happens, family, other household members and paid caregivers usually are the abusers. Although there are extreme cases of elder abuse, often the abuse is subtle, and the distinction between normal interpersonal stress and abuse is not always easy to discern.

Commonly, the abuse is related to changes in living situations and relationships brought about by the older person’s growing frailty and dependence on others for companionship and for meeting basic needs.

Elder abuse, like other forms of violence, is never an acceptable response to any problem or situation, however stressful, according to the APA. Effective interventions can prevent or stop elder abuse. By increasing awareness among physicians, mental health professionals, home health care workers and others who provide services to the elderly and family members, patterns of abuse or neglect can be broken, and both the abused person and the abuser can receive needed help. For more information, visit www.ncea.aoa.gov or, locally, call Vera House at (315) 425-0818.

If you have any questions about this topic or any others, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at barclaw@assembly.state.ny.us or by calling (315) 598-5185.