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Fight elder abuse

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Posted 5/31/24

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which will be observed on June 15, signifies our collective struggle against the mistreatment of older adults. Elder abuse is not only an individual problem; it's a …

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Fight elder abuse

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World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which will be observed on June 15, signifies our collective struggle against the mistreatment of older adults. Elder abuse is not only an individual problem; it's a community and societal issue that reminds us to promote respect and dignity for older adults.

Elder abuse refers to intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or a trusted individual that cause harm to an older adult. It can come in the form of physical, emotional, neglect and financial mistreatment—the last being the most prevalent and easily executed through scams or fraud targeted at older adults.

It's a critical public health issue that can cause significant physical and psychological harm to older adults. A significant step toward preventing this abuse is equipping older adults and their caregivers with knowledge and resources to help prevent abuse.

The National Council on Aging estimates that approximately five million older adults are abused every year in the United States. This figure is both alarming and disheartening, considering only one in 14 cases is likely reported. Research findings estimate that older victims of financial fraud lose roughly $30 billion a year.

For older adults, defending against such abuse begins with awareness. Identifying potential frauds and cons such as lottery scams, identity theft, or email phishing schemes is crucial. Older people should be wary of unsolicited calls and emails, particularly those requesting personal information, money transfers, or unusual payment methods such as gift cards and any of these requests that are communicated with extreme urgency. Awareness training programs about these fraud methods can significantly enhance older adults' ability to discern genuine transactions from scams.

The use of technology can also help people safeguard their financial assets. Enabling bank alerts for large transactions, using apps with real-time tracking of account activity, and setting up direct deposits for checks can minimize potential abuse. Equally pivotal is safeguarding essential documents and updating estate planning documents regularly.

The role of strong social networks in helping to prevent elder abuse can't be overstated. Staying connected with family, friends and community can deter potential abusers. Unfortunately, social isolation has become a growing issue for many older adults, especially during the pandemic. It's crucial for people to leverage technology to maintain relationships and stay active within our communities, reducing the risk of exploitation significantly.

Furthermore, older adults must also feel able to report any instance of potential abuse. Fear or embarrassment can often deter individuals from reporting abuse. Support from community, family, and authorities is key to reassuring older adults that they're not alone and that reporting is indeed a step towards prevention.

To report elder abuse, older adults or individuals concerned about them can reach out to the following resources:

  • Adult Protective Services (APS): APS agencies serve as the primary agency responsible for receiving and investigating reports of elder abuse. You can locate your local APS office through the National Adult Protective Services Association's website.
  • Local law enforcement: In situations where an older adult is in immediate danger, contacting local law enforcement—such as police or the sheriff’s department—is vital.
  • National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA): This is a resource for information on elder abuse prevention. 
  • ElderCare Locator: A public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, the ElderCare Locator connects you to services for older adults and their families. It can be reached at 1-800-677-1116.
  • Long-term care ombudsman: These are advocates for residents of nursing homes, board, and care homes, assisted living facilities, etc. They can provide information about how to find a facility and services and what to do to get quality care and support.

Callers can remain anonymous when reporting abuse, and most of the mentioned agencies are equipped to provide help even when the abuse has occurred in the past.

With a collaborative strategy in place, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield works in tandem with health care providers to detect early signs of elder abuse. We have taken great strides to implement caregiver education programs, because in many cases, the caregivers are the first line of defense in recognizing indicators of abuse. We are not just advocating prevention, but actively invested in providing solutions to help prevent elder abuse.

Older adults are valuable members of our society, and it is important we help ensure their safety, security, and wellness. As we observe World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, let us commit not only to raise awareness but also to actively work towards prevention strategies. Providing older adults with the essential knowledge and resources to help prevent abuse is a significant first step in this direction. Every step taken to protect citizens from abuse is a step towards a more caring and compassionate society.

Eugene Hsu, MD, MBA, is Senior Medicare Clinical Officer for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

elder abuse, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, scams, preventing abuse


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