As this country gets older, more senior citizens are abused every day.

National estimates are that between one and two million seniors experience neglect, exploitation or physical, financial, emotional or sexual abuse every year.

Only one out of every five instances of abuse is ever reported. All too often the abusers are not strangers, but someone who is known to the elder, sometimes it’s even a “dutiful” caregiver. This makes the wrong all the worse.

These facts are a call to action for all of us.

Spectrum Generations makes it its business to protect those who are most vulnerable, those who have a right to safety and dignity.

Most people think abused elders are frail, incapacitated people who live in a nursing home. It’s more likely, however, that a senior citizen who is being abused lives next door, or in the community. It may be someone we wouldn’t think of as the “typical target” for abuse.

Someday that older person being abused could be you. It’s time for us all to pay attention and help to make a change.

Spectrum Generations Meals on Wheels drivers are in people’s homes on a regular basis, not only delivering meals, but looking out for the general welfare of our consumers. Warning signs that might signal physical abuse include bruises, broken bones, sudden withdrawal from normal activities and depression.

Financial exploitation of older and disabled adults in another form of abuse. When our consumer information specialists talk or meet with consumers because they are struggling to pay for necessities such as food, prescriptions or heating oil, they listen and read between the lines for sudden financial changes that don’t fit the situation and may indicate someone is exploiting them financially.

Sometimes caregivers are so tired and exasperated they’ve lost their patience. There’s no shame in recognizing it and asking for help. Spectrum Generations Family Caregiver Support team can help caregivers better cope with the challenges of caring for a loved one by offering resources, caregiver training, support groups and respite care.

What should we do if we see a senior citizen exhibiting warning signs of physical abuse or any suspicious situation involving an elder? Report it to the Maine Adult Protective Services hotline at 1-880-624-8404. If a vulnerable adult is in immediate danger, dial 9-1-1 or call the police.

Anyone who thinks they’ve been the victim of any kind of abuse should call the hotline or tell their doctor, a friend or someone in the clergy. Everyone deserves to be safe and treated with dignity, no matter what. No one should be afraid to report it if someone is taking advantage of them or treating them badly.

Friday is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Spectrum Generations encourages everyone to take the time to educate themselves and to keep their eyes and ears open for possible abuse. Remember: There is no excuse for elder abuse!

Deb Halm is vice president of operations at Spectrum Generations, the Central Maine Area Agency on Aging, and Aging and Disability Resource Center celebrating 40 years of helping older and disabled adults. www.spectrumgenerations.org


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