Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The United Nations designated June 15 as such in 2012, “in an effort to bring global attention to the problem of physical, emotional, and financial abuse of older adults.”
As the population 65 and older continues to swell, elder abuse is taking on urgency as a public health issue. It is considered to be one of the most under-acknowledged and under-reported public health issues in America and is reaching epidemic proportions.
Locally, during the past five years, reports of suspected elder abuse in Massachusetts have soared. Since 2011, abuse reports have climbed 37 percent. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs, the agency that tracks and investigates abuse, recorded nearly 30,000 reported cases last year. Half of those were investigated and 7,000 substantiated. And those are the ones that get reported.
The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that it “simply does not know for certain how many people are suffering from elder abuse and neglect.” Signs of abuse may be missed by professionals working with older adults. And seniors may be reluctant to report abuse themselves because of fear of retaliation, lack of cognitive ability, or because they do not want to get the abuser in trouble – most often one of their children. Elder abuse takes many forms – physical, emotional and financial - and the suffering, fear, shame, and despair that many seniors experience undermines their physical and mental health along with independence and financial security.
Hebrew SeniorLife’s mission states that we accept special responsibility for the frailest and neediest members of our community who are most dependent on our care. This commitment is reiterated in our recent strategic plan —to improve the quality of life for expanding populations of seniors, especially the most vulnerable and underserved.
HSL is exploring how we can tap our resources and expertise to be part of the solution to the growing problem of elder abuse and neglect. We are uniquely positioned to play a leadership role in combating the underlying issues that lead to abuse, and poised to deploy our knowledge in new and innovative ways.
Our skilled, experienced and multidisciplinary staff offer more than 2,600 pairs of watchful eyes looking out for the interests of the seniors who live in our senior living communities and those we serve through our community based health services, including home health care and adult day health programs. We can serve as a model for greater community engagement in supporting the most vulnerable seniors among us. At the same time with our comprehensive continuum of health care services we can serve as a conduit for connecting services among our potential collaborators, partners and external resources. And our Institute for Aging Research can study how certain conditions impact the risk of a senior becoming a victim and a family member or caretaker becoming an abuser.
On Monday, June 12, HSL convened an expert panel that discussed a community approach to elder abuse. We see this as an important step in building local awareness of elder abuse and neglect and initiating meaningful dialogue among community partners. The panel included Alice Bonner, Secretary of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs for Massachusetts; Betsy Crimmins, Director of the Elder Abuse Prevention Project at Greater Boston Legal Services; Cynthia Hutchins, Director of Gerontology, Bank of America; and Rachel Lerner, General Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer and Chair of the Elder Abuse Task Force, HSL.
On Monday, HSL took a public stand in the movement to stamp out elder abuse and neglect. I urge all of you to join me by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of abuse and what steps you should take if you suspect someone you know or who lives in your community is a victim.
To report abuse, call 1-800-922-2275.
Please consider supporting HSL’s effort to start a Center for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and Neglect. We would be the first health care organization to offer a dedicated shelter and resource center for victims of elder abuse and neglect in Massachusetts. Visit http://www.hebrewseniorlife.org/giving.
About Hebrew SeniorLife
Founded in Boston in 1903, Harvard Medical School-affiliated Hebrew SeniorLife is a nonprofit, non-sectarian organization that today provides communities and health care for seniors, research into aging, and education for geriatric care providers. With nearly 2,600 employees aligned around a common mission, goals and cultural beliefs, we are one of the largest employers in Massachusetts. We care for 3,000 seniors a day at our nine Boston-area campuses and communities. We reach countless more seniors, families, caregivers and senior care professionals around the U.S. and the world through our research and teaching mission.
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