World Elder Abuse Day Raises Awareness

Each year, an estimated five million older adults are abused, neglected or exploited. Older Americans lose an estimated $2.6 billion or more annually due to elder financial abuse and exploitation. These are funds that could be used to pay for basic needs such as housing, food, and medical care. Unfortunately, it occurs in every demographic and can happen to anyone–a family member, a neighbor, even you. It is estimated that only one in five of these crimes are discovered.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was launched on June 15, 2006, by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations (UN). WEAAD aims to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect. In addition, WEAAD is held in support of the UN International Plan of Action acknowledging the significance of elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue. This observance serves as a call-to-action for individuals, organizations, and communities to raise awareness about elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Policies and practices in this country and the rural nature of our county make it hard for older people to stay involved with and connected to our communities as they age. As a result, older people are more likely to experience social isolation which increases the likelihood of abuse and neglect. We can design stronger societal supports to keep our older people connected and protect them from abuse, whether financial, emotional, physical or sexual. When we address a root cause like social isolation, we also make it less likely that people will neglect themselves (self-neglect). Older adults who are socially connected and protected from harm are less likely to be hospitalized, less likely to go into nursing homes and less likely to die. We can and must create healthier and safer living environments for older adults including their homes, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Chautauqua County Office for the Aging (OFA) is a strong supporter of WEAAD and other initiatives that bring awareness to this growing problem that steals life, dignity and financial security from our oldest citizens. In addition to advocacy and raising awareness, our mission is to provide programs and services that help older adults who have been abused and exploited. We hope if you know of someone in this situation or you suspect abuse you will call OFA/NY Connects Helpline to tell of your concerns. We can unobtrusively look into the matter to see if it is truly abuse or just people in crisis who need our services. The caller’s identity is kept confidential. OFA regularly partners with Adult Protective Services, the Center for Elder Law and Justice, Law NY, law enforcement, local banks and many other community organizations to collectively work on elder abuse. In addition, financial exploitation cases are getting special attention through the multidisciplinary team which was recently formed in our county.

We are making great strides locally, but our efforts alone are not enough. It’s up to everyone to prevent elder abuse. Talk about it with your friends, colleagues and neighbors. Host a presentation and distribute materials about elder abuse at your club, business or place of worship. Educate yourself and others to better recognize the warning signs of abuse and neglect. Since social isolation is a key factor, think about being a friendly visitor to an older person, maybe even one of your neighbors. Provide support for someone who is a caregiver so they don’t get stressed out and don’t tolerate ageism! This begins with not making fun of older adults.

You can find tools and information on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day which took place on June 15 at eldermistreatment.usc.edu/weaad-home or contact the National Center on Elder Abuse at 1-855-500-3537 or ncea-info@aoa.hhs.gov with any questions. For more information on local resources to combat elder abuse contact our NY Connects helpline at 753-4582, 363-4582, or 661-7582. For local activities and events check out the Office for the Aging Facebook page.

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