By Art Mason
Social isolation is a known risk factor for elder abuse. What have many older adults been doing the last few months? Isolating due to the COVID-19 health crisis.
With little social interaction, limited access to supportive family and friends, and limited opportunities for informal observation, the risk of abuse, in its many forms, increases dramatically.
Many of us, at some point in our lives, will become more isolated due to illness or frailty, and we will be at greater risk of isolation, neglect, and abuse. After all, if we don’t interact regularly with friends, neighbors and loved ones, who will notice if we experience abuse or neglect — and who will help us recover and get support when we need it?
Elder abuse exists in every community and every neighborhood, rich and poor, even in “nice” families. Elder abuse occurs more often in people’s homes than in nursing homes. Adult children and grandchildren are often abusers. Sometimes it’s an acquaintance or caregiver.
At the Upstate Elder Abuse Center at Lifespan, we strive to break the silence about elder abuse, a hidden problem that affects as many as one in 13 older adults in New York state. We know elder abuse is hidden because just one in 23 instances is ever reported. We also know that the most prevalent form of abuse is financial exploitation by people who know the older adult. Scams also target older adults with false cures, illegitimate charities and fraudulent emails. They are a constant threat which exploits our parents, grandparents and friends.
Elder abuse is an injustice that erodes older people’s safety and dignity by subjecting them to verbal or physical abuse, neglect, financial exploitation or sexual assault. Working toward a truly just society means eradicating elder abuse in all forms. In fact, New York state needs comprehensive, mandatory reporting laws about elder abuse. It is the only state in the country without mandated reporting of elder abuse occurring outside of nursing homes.
We ask for more conversation on how we can better protect our older victims and raise awareness about this hidden, growing problem. We can create a more just society by building a stronger social structure for older people; a structure which includes increased awareness to prevent abuse, intervention to stop abuse and public policy advocacy to break the silence that surrounds elder abuse and financial exploitation.
The Upstate Elder Abuse Center at Lifespan provides information, guidance and intervention services in Monroe and nine other counties including Genesee, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Schuyler, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates.