World Elder Abuse Day – a cause near to my heart

Reading Dear Abby this morning, I learned that today, June 15, is World Elder Abuse Day. It’s a subject close to my heart. As President of my own licensed home care services agency, ElderSource, Inc., I witnessed the extreme pressures that can lead to potentially abusive situations, even among loving families who are doing their best to provide quality care for their elders.* Unfortunately, most seniors are not nearly as well off as our clients were.

The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that as many as one in ten elders experience some form of abuse, but only one in five cases gets reported. They define elder abuse as “neglect, exploitation or ‘painful or harmful’ mistreatment of anyone 65 or older,” and the abuse can be financial, physical or psychological.

We’ve all heard the horror stories that surface regularly in the news – the abusive caregivers, the financial scams that can cost gullible elders their homes. Perhaps less obvious is the neglect that can stem from isolation, especially when dementia, mental illness or substance abuse are involved. Elders living alone, far from involved family, can suffer from self-neglect when they’re unable or unwilling to care for their own needs.

My 81-year-old brother in the Bronx has a wonderful support network of neighbors he’s come to know over 30 years in the same apartment building, but suburban neighborhoods of single-family dwellings don’t offer the same comfortable familiarity. Personally, I plan to age in place – our home is already too small for all our stuff, and I can’t picture downsizing any further. But it’s not a prospect I look forward to with great enthusiasm, and it’s all too easy to envision myself as a neglected recluse in some not so distant future.

What can you do to help prevent elder abuse, including self-neglect? First, learn more about how to recognize the signs and symptoms by visiting informative websites like the following:

Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect, University of California at Irvine (www.centeronelderabuse.org)

National Center on Elder Abuse (http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/)

Keep in contact with your older friends, neighbors and relatives so as to help decrease isolation, a risk factor for mistreatment. Be observant for signs of abuse or neglect.

Report possible mistreatment or neglect to your local adult protective services agency or to 911.

Contact your local Area Agency on Aging office to help identify possible sources of support like Meals on Wheels.

Volunteer, either formally or informally. With elderly neighbors living on either side of us, my husband and I drove them to doctors’ appointments and ran errands. I’m grateful for the stories they told me and the closeness we developed near the ends of their life spans, and I hope my own younger neighbors may reciprocate someday. More formally, as administrator for the Memorial Society of the Hudson-Mohawk Region, I help educate people about affordable funerals and how to avoid one of the most common financial rip-offs that plague our seniors.

But why get involved in yet another cause, when there are so many clamoring for our attention? Because we’re all part of a beloved community, both globally and locally, and the person who needs your help may be as close as your next-door neighbor.

 *My experience as President and CEO of ElderSource inspired my novel Eldercide, which addresses the question, “When quality of life declines with age and illness, who decides if you’re better off dead?” The book explores elder abuse taken to the extreme, but fortunately it’s pure fiction – at least from my perspective. Unfortunately, the plot is all too plausible. You can read more about Eldercide on this site.

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Karen Walker
    Jun 15, 2010 @ 13:00:40

    Important topic, Julie. And one us aging hippies need to pay attention to. By the way, thanks for your kind comment on my blog yesterday. It meant a lot to me.
    Karen

    Reply

    • julielomoe
      Jun 16, 2010 @ 13:53:56

      Thanks so much, Karen, and thanks for your wonderful blog, which I recommend to others who may not have visited yet. FYI, Karen writes about her personal history and overcoming past traumas in a way that’s truly inspirational.

      Reply

  2. Betsy Tuel
    Jun 15, 2010 @ 14:57:20

    I wrote a comment then clicked the wrong key and it all disappeared. So I’m trying again.

    I thought of you, Julie, this morning when I read Dear Abby. So glad you saw her column today and decided to blog on the subject.

    I’ve packed your book, Eldercide, to take on vacation. I’m a little scared to read it and learn more about mistreatment and even abuse of the elderly in our society. On the other hand, you write well, so I’m looking forward to reading this, your second novel. I enjoyed Mood Swing, The Bipolar Murders greatly.

    Reply

    • julielomoe
      Jun 16, 2010 @ 13:57:52

      I’m glad you persevered, Betsy, and I’m glad you’re taking Eldercide on vacation. It’s not that scary a read, at least in the sense of overt violence – the villain has a strong point of view in the story, but he’s actually quite compassionate at the core. The elders die painlessly, and he feels he’s doing them a service, although I and most readers would no doubt disagree.

      Reply

  3. Jean Henry Mead
    Jun 16, 2010 @ 10:40:24

    A wonderful cause. Bless you, Julie. There are far too many elderly people ignored or abused by their own children. I remember writing as a news reporter about a 98-year old woman who managed to jump to her death from the window of her nursing home because her children had abandoned her. Our elders should be cherished, not abused.

    Reply

    • julielomoe
      Jun 16, 2010 @ 15:58:49

      Thank you for sharing, Jean – what a terrible story! Unfortunately the sense of abandonment is all too common, even if the end is less dramatic. Far too many elders feel anything but cherished.

      Reply

  4. clara54
    Jun 21, 2010 @ 13:20:01

    Hi Julie- first off, thanks for visiting @ wisewoman2. my blog for women in transition. I especially like your work here because you speak /write from a place of truth in regards to abuse of the elderly. As a still practicing nurse (although after 30+ years i’d like to pass the torch on to the younger/compassionate nurses) I’ve seen/dealt with my share of elder mistreatment(staff & families) thank God, it’s not the norm in most hospitals & nursing facilities whose mission is to take care of their elderly patients.
    As a writer, I’m loving talking to and listening to the elder stories and write their legacies.
    Will sign off now because I I’m prone to go on when it comes to the elderly & women issues:) Looking forward to reading ELDERCIDE and for possible review on my blog.

    Clara.

    Reply

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