Today, Monday, June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day; a day set aside for communities around the world to raise awareness about elder abuse, and to shed light on the importance of preventing, identifying, and responding to this serious, escalating problem.
It’s estimated that each year, 5 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation, and for every case that is reported, as many as four cases go unreported. Experts agree this upward trend will continue for at least the next decade, as more and more baby boomers enter their later years.
As Director of Adult Protective Services (APS) for Family & Children’s Service, I know the toll that elder abuse is taking on our own community. Our social workers are responsible for receiving and investigating reports of suspected abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults living in the community in Monmouth and Middlesex Counties. Last year alone, the number of new cases we investigated in Monmouth County jumped seven percent, from 357 cases in 2013, to 382 in 2014. Middlesex County had 386 new cases. At the same time our caseload is increasing, the severity and complexity of the cases we handle is also rising. Everyday we are witnessing more and more vulnerable adults living alone and unable to care for themselves, lacking adequate food or shelter, robbed of their personal belongings or life savings by a trusted family member or friend, and stripped of their personal dignity.
Unfortunately, no one is immune. Abuse occurs in every demographic, and can happen to anyone—a family member, a neighbor, even you. Like domestic violence and child abuse, elder abuse comes in many forms. It can be physical, sexual or emotional abuse; neglect, abandonment and financial exploitation. In many cases, the abuser is a family member or friend. Often the abused do not want to report the people who have abused them because they are dependent on them for support.
What can I do, you ask? Learn the risk factors. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging website at www.aoa.gov is a great resource. Take an active interest in watching for signs of possible abuse in elderly relatives or neighbors. Red flags can include changes in the person’s personality, behavior or physical condition and should prompt you to start asking questions. Frequently check on your elderly neighbors or relatives. Volunteer to be a friendly visitor to a nursing home resident or homebound elder in your community. Provide respite for a caregiver by filling in for a few hours or more. Most importantly, report suspected abuse to the appropriate authorities. In Monmouth County, the number to call is 732-531-9191. In Middlesex County the number is 732-745-3635.
All of us have a role in protecting the most vulnerable among us. Join us in raising awareness of this problem, and help create a safer, more compassionate world for all.
Lisa Barnes MSW, LSW is Director of Adult Protective Services for Monmouth & Middlesex Counties at Family & Children’s Service