World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is Saturday. It’s a day when we can contemplate that as many as 1 in 10 older Americans experience elder abuse, neglect or exploitation. How horrible that people abuse their elders, neglect them and exploit them.
We ought to do more about the high incidence of elder abuse than to dedicate one day of the year for pubic awareness. When 1 in 10 are affected by elder abuse, it calls for more than dedicating a single day to the problem. Rather than shouting from the mountaintops about the problem, we’re giving it a little whisper.
Perhaps a little whisper is appropriate. That’s the kind of crime that elder abuse is. It’s a crime in which the victims quite frequently are afraid or embarrassed to report they’ve been victimized. With elder abuse, there’s a lot that happens that goes unreported.
That’s how elder abuse works. Once strong, independent and alert, when we grow older we’re less capable of watching out for ourselves, less aware that there are people out there who want to help, and not knowing that for every silent victim, there likely are others — all because a victim didn’t speak up.
Or because the loving family or friends around the victim didn’t recognize the signs of elder abuse.
“We all have a part to play in recognizing the signs of abuse and doing everything we can to prevent it.” said Dr. Matthew Van Patton, director of the Division of Medicaid and Long-Term Care for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
Van Patton said many victims are afraid to speak out because the abuser may be a family member or a caregiver.
It’s because of elder abuse that the Adult Protective Services unit of DHHS exists. Its staff knows how to recognize the signs of abuse and root out abusers so the vulnerable victims can have peace and safety.
Among the physical signs of elder abuse are cuts, puncture wounds, burns, bruises, soiled clothing or bedding, or sunken eyes and poor coloration because of dehydration or malnutrition. A house without food or utilities signals something is wrong.
So are contradictory statements or implausible stories to explain bruises, empty cupboards or lack of electricity.
If you encounter an older family member who is hesitant to talk about such warning signs, call in the experts. Calls to the National Elder Abuse hotline — 800-96-ABUSE — are confidential, and you’re assured that someone with expertise will sort out the situation.