June 15 marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). Sacramento County's Adult Protective Services (APS) encourages people to learn about signs of abuse and the steps they can take to stop or prevent elder abuse. Together, we can build a community without elder abuse where we can all age with dignity and justice. Elder abuse and neglect are more common than people think.
- Financial abuse involves taking or misusing an elder's money or property. Examples include using money without permission or pressuring an elder into giving someone money; forging signatures; theft of money or possessions; coercing or deceiving an older person into signing a contract or legal form; or misusing a Power of Attorney. Sadly, financial abuse is often committed by family members, but strangers and scammers also target elders in the form of phone scams, internet fraud, dating scams, and a variety of other types of exploitation.
- Neglect by a caregiver can occur in various forms, such as failure to provide care; failure to protect from malnutrition or dehydration; or failure to address medical, hygienic, nutritional, or dietary needs, including medication and medical appointments.
- Isolation includes preventing an elder from receiving mail or telephone calls, not letting loved ones visit, false imprisonment, or physically restraining a person to keep them from meeting with visitors.
- Physical abuse includes assault, battery, sexual assault, or prolonged physical deprivation of food or water.
- Abandonment is the desertion or willful forsaking of someone by their care provider.
- Abduction involves removing an elder from the state against their will.
- Self-Neglect is when an elder fails to care for themselves because of impaired cognitive function, substance use, or poor health; for example, someone who lives in an unsafe situation due to hoarding.
Survivors of elder abuse often experience feelings of shame, which leads to underreporting of incidents and fear of reaching out for support. To combat this barrier, APS encourages people to believe older adults when they report abuse and emphasizes that the elder did nothing wrong. It's not their fault that someone abused them; elder abuse is a crime. When family members, friends, and caretakers create a supportive environment where victims feel heard and validated, it encourages older adults experiencing abuse to come forward.
Ageism, the bias against someone based on their age, plays a role in elder abuse. Consider confronting your own attitude and opinions about aging. Don't make assumptions about the older adults in your life. Instead, listen to them, learn from them, and believe them.
There are steps you can take to keep the elders in our community safe, including engaging in open communication with neighbors, maintaining weekly contact with older family members, and encouraging the reporting of all suspicious incidents, regardless of any associated shame. You can lessen the risk of elder abuse by being part of a reliable support system. Building a community of strong support and connection can help prevent abuse.
It is not uncommon to have a feeling or intuition about a situation that may involve abuse, even if the details cannot be fully verified. In such cases, APS social workers are trained to handle these sensitive situations. Upon receiving a report, APS assesses the situation and determines the most appropriate response.
Sacramento County's Senior and Adult Services Division (SAS) strives to provide protection from abuse, neglect, and exploitation while also preserving independence and self-determination. APS works with elders and their support networks to ensure caring, healthy, and safe environments.
“Elder abuse awareness and reporting are the first steps toward seeking justice and safeguarding independence and quality of life for our community of older adults," said Sacramento County's Deputy Director for Senior and Adult Services, Melissa Jacobs.
If you suspect neglect, take action. Any member of the public can make a report to APS by calling (916) 874-9377. In emergencies, immediately call 911. Each person can make a difference by staying vigilant and taking action if they suspect abuse or neglect. By reporting concerns, you contribute to the well-being and safety of our community.