As Americans, we believe in justice for all. Yet we fail to live up to this promise when we allow older members of our society to be abused or neglected. Older people are vital, contributing members of American society and their maltreatment diminishes all of us. Just as we have confronted and addressed the social issues of child abuse and domestic violence, so too can we find solutions to address issues like elder abuse, which also threatens the well-being of our community.

June 15 was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Central Vermont Council on Aging is proud to join the many worldwide voices speaking up on behalf of our older neighbors who need our help. Some of our social policies and practices make it hard for older people to stay involved with and connected to our communities as they age. As a result, older people are more likely to experience social isolation, which increases the likelihood of abuse and neglect. We can design stronger societal supports to keep our older people connected and protect them from abuse, whether financial, emotional, physical or sexual. Older adults who are socially connected and protected from harm are less likely to be hospitalized, less likely to go into nursing homes and less likely to die.

There are many ways to get involved in strengthening our communities and preventing elder abuse:

— Advocate for programs that reduce isolation and loneliness such as Meals on Wheels, senior centers, transportation and wellness activities.

— Advocate for elder abuse prevention and intervention programs.

— Be a friendly visitor to an older person living in the community. Or become a volunteer at the Central Vermont Council on Aging by calling (802) 479-0531.

— Provide support for someone who is a caregiver.

— Don’t tolerate ageism — this begins with not making fun of older adults.

Know the warning signs of elder abuse:

— Physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment: Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, burns.

— Financial abuse: Sudden changes in financial situations.

— Neglect: Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, unusual weight loss.

— Verbal or emotional abuse: Belittling, threats, or other uses of power and control by individuals.

— Sexual abuse: Touching, fondling, intercourse, or any other sexual activity with an older adult when the older adult is unable to understand, consent, is threatened or physically forced.

If you know an aging person is being abused, neglected or exploited, you can: call 911 if it’s an emergency; file a report with Vermont’s Adult Protective Services program at (800) 564-1612; or report any financial exploitation of older Vermonters to the Office of the Attorney General (800) 649-2424.

Advocate for law enforcement, prosecutors, victim’s advocates, health care providers and faith-based groups to build community teams to better understand and serve elder abuse victims. Get more information about how to make a difference by visiting the National Center on Elder Abuse https://ncea.acl.gov or by contacting your Adult Protective Services in Vermont (800) 564-1612.

Mary Hayden is the development and communications director for Central Vermont Council on Aging.

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