June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month. June 15 Elder Abuse Awareness Day. With the growing global population of elderly people and as longevity increases, abuse of the elderly is an increasing and serious problem, so it is vital to raise awareness of it and thus prevent it whenever and wherever possible.
Elder abuse comes in many forms, including physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse, as well as neglect. Elderly people are particularly vulnerable to abuse, and to being unable to defend themselves and get help when fear and infirmity are major barriers to seeking help. Unfortunately, it is estimated that millions of American elders, from all walks of life, face abuse and neglect. Anyone can be victimized.
There are things you can do to help protect yourself from abuse and neglect. The following information is from the National Center on Elder Abuse.
Plan for your future. Talk with family members, friends and professionals that you trust, and consider doing the following:
— Have your income (retirement, Social Security, SSI, Disability, etc.) directly deposited into your checking account. Contact your bank or go to www.godirect.org for help.
— If managing your daily finances becomes difficult, consider using a daily money manager. Only allow someone you trust to manage your finances. Visit www.aadmm.com or www.aarpmmp.org for information on professional money management services.
— Get your estate plan in place. Talk with an attorney about helping you create these documents as appropriate: A living will (visit www.agingwithdignity.org); a revocable trust; and a durable power of attorney for healthcare and/or asset management (naming someone to make decisions for you when you're incapable, and note, having co-powers of attorney ensures no one person can act unilaterally).
— If you go into a long-term care facility, learn about your options. Visit www.medicare.gov/quality-care-finder for more information on long term care facility quality.
Be cautious. Unscrupulous people target seniors and will abuse or take advantage of them. Consider doing the following:
— Learn about the types of elder abuse and neglect and associated warning signs. See the National Center on Elder Abuse website: www.ncea.acl.gov.
— Get on the National Do Not Call Registry to reduce telemarketing calls. Visit www.donotcall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222 to register your phone number.
— If you are offered a "prize," an "investment," a "loan," et cetera, that sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. Consult with someone you trust before making a large purchase or investment. Don't be pressured or intimidated into immediate decisions.
— Don't sign any documents that you don't completely understand without first consulting an attorney or family member you trust.
— Do not provide personal information (such as social security number, credit card number) over the phone unless you placed the call and know with whom you are speaking.
— Tear up or shred credit card receipts, bank statements and financial records before disposing them in the trash.
— If you hire someone for personal assistance services, in home care services, or the like, ensure that they have been properly screened with criminal background checks completed.
Stay connected. Keep in touch regularly with others, isolation can make you vulnerable to abuse. Consider doing the following:
— Build a network of family, friends, neighbors and groups that you can interact with.
— Keep active, stay busy! Get involved with a senior center or other groups.
— Create a buddy system with other elders, call each other daily for reassurance and friendship and visit each other if possible.
Report mistreatment. Making a report of instances of abuse or neglect is the right thing to do, and it's easy. Don't be afraid; elders have a right to be safe!
In cases of immediate danger, call 911.
If you or others experience abuse or neglect in a community setting, Adult Protective Services is there to help. Their mission is to ensure the safety and well being of elders and dependent adults. Visit www.napsa-now.org/get-help/help-in-your-area.
If you or others experience abuse or neglect in a long-term care facility (nursing home, assisted living facility), the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is there to help. The program's mission is to advocate for residents and help ensure their safe, appropriate care. Visit www.ltcombudsman.org.
For local reporting phone numbers, contact Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 or www.eldercare.gov/eldercare.net/public/index.aspx.
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With millions isolated by the Covid pandemic, more people are vulnerable to deception. Federal Trade Commission data tells us that Americans have reported thousands of COVID-19 related scams resulting in losses of millions of dollars. Before the pandemic, one in four older adults were socially isolated. As a result of the pandemic, that number is far higher.
A friendly voice on the phone is a bright spot. Please do not be fooled by a stranger; scammers use information they have learned about you to their advantage. This is not the time to trust strangers, no matter how nice they seem. Scammers are professionals at being nice. Cut off contact the moment somebody you don't know well asks for information or financial help.
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Niagara County Office for the Aging will host a virtual press conference on Facebook on June 15th, Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Several elected officials and other community members are making videos that will be posted for all to view and share. The theme this year is "Reach Out, Speak Out." The hope is to encourage community members or seniors to speak out if they have any concerns about any forms of abuse. Messages about combatting elder abuse will be shared on Facebook throughout June as well. For more information, call 438-3030.
Maureen A. Wendt is president and CEO of The Dale Association, a non-profit organization that provides senior, mental health, in-home care, caregiver support services and enrichment activities for adults.