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Shedding Light on a Serious Problem

Last week, we highlighted the prevalence of dating violence among teenagers — and now, we’d like to talk about a problem that affects a different generation: the elderly. Elder abuse is a serious issue in this country, affecting some of our most vulnerable citizens. Each year, between 1.6 and 2 million seniors become victims of abuse and neglect. With our rapidly aging population, elder abuse is poised to become an even bigger problem — and one we must address head-on if we hope to change it.

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So what exactly is elder abuse? It can be any sort of intentional action that either causes harm or creates a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or someone in a position of trust. The four most common forms are physical abuse (which may include sexual abuse), psychological or emotional abuse, financial abuse and neglect. Many victims of elder abuse are dependent on their abuser for their basic needs.

Elder abuse most often happens in the home — but it can also happen in institutional settings, such as long-term care facilities. Most often, the abuser is a family member — such as a spouse or adult child. Having a disability such as dementia makes it even more likely that an older adult will experience abuse; almost 50% of seniors with dementia experience elder abuse . This sort of abuse can even be fatal. Elders who experience abuse have a 300% higher rate of death than older Americans who do not experience abuse. In Pennsylvania alone, 11 people over the age of 65 were killed in domestic violence incidents in 2013.

This problem is compounded by the aging nature of our population. By 2050, estimates are that 20% of the American population will be over age 65, with 19 million adults over age 85. It’s a crime that often isn’t recognized or reported; only 1 in 14 cases are ever brought to the attention of the authorities. It also does not receive much in the way of funding; only 2% of federal abuse prevention dollars go towards protecting the elderly.

So what can we do to help? First, learn the signs and symptoms of elder abuse and watch your loved ones for any of these issues. Second, if you suspect abuse, report it! In Westmoreland County, call the Area Agency on Aging to report these crimes, or your local police department if appropriate. Third, get involved in Blackburn Center’s mission to prevent all types of abuse! You can volunteer , donate, participate in events, or schedule a training program. Together, we CAN make a difference in preventing this type of abuse!

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