The first step in preventing elder abuse is acknowledging that you have the authority to report it. You don’t have to be a relative or a companion. Anyone can report elder abuse. There isn’t a federal hotline but most if not all states have something. Google “Elder Abuse” + your state to find the hotline in your area. In Virginia we call it Adult Protective Services and the number to that 24 hour, toll free hotline is 888-832-3858.
If you are unable to find the hotline for your area, you can always call your local police department. Unless it is an emergency, please do not call 911. Instead, google the non-emergency number for your local police. Have a pen and paper ready as they will likely give you the right number to use.
Some types of abuse are more obvious than others. It’s important to note that while bruises might be signs of abuse, they might just be due to clumsiness. As people age, their skin changes and is more susceptible to bruising. That being said, if you see bruises on an older person find a friendly way to ask about it. Hopefully they will tell you a funny story that you can bond over :)
The vast majority of elder abuse cases are not physical. Rather, they are cases of neglect. And these can be the hardest to spot. Maybe an older person is being kept in a home with little care. Only so their children can keep getting their social security check and avoid spending the money for care. This type of cruelty is only possible because it is so easy to hide.
Lastly, elder abuse can be financial in nature. Think of the famous Jamaican Lottery Scam that scammed one North Dakota Grandma out of her 400k life savings. These scams often target the elderly because they are more trusting. They are less likely to google scams before they fall victim. And of course the embarrassment often keeps them from reporting it after they have been a victim. It’s important to know and share what you know about common scams to help everyone around you. In the case of elder fraud, which these financial scams fall under, you can reach out to the FBI. Here’s some common elder fraud that the FBI sees regularly.
Pay attention to your elderly neighbors. For some it is incredibly hard to ask for help. They might fear that by asking for help, they will be hauled off to a nursing home. Or that they are simply a burden and nobody wants to be a burden. If you have an elderly neighbor try to catch them outside or pick up some cheap flowers to bring them. Even if you have never met before, introduce yourself and be friendly.
Even if you aren’t naturally nosey, make a point of reaching out once every 6 months. It could be as simple as asking them if they are ready for the hot or cold weather coming up. And of course if there is a particularly cold or hot day, swing by their home to make sure their air conditioner or heater is running. Offer to call a repairman if needed. Depending on your neighbor, they might need someone who is assertive to call on their behalf. They may not want to ask but due to their age, they should be at the front of the service line.
Familiarizing yourself with scams or stories of elder abuse is a great way to keep your loved ones informed. Instead of being overly nosey about their finances or asking about things specific to them, tell them stories of people falling victim to these scams. By making it about a third party you can inform and entertain without coming across as too pushy.
It might be time to have a family meeting about their end of life choices. Are they comfortable in their current place? Where do they want to go next? Do they have a power of attorney set up? Keep your ears and eyes open as you have these discussions. If they say that someone is taking care of things for them, keep asking follow up questions. It’s better to risk being seen as nosey than letting them fall victim to any kind of elder abuse.
Obviously your current relationship will dictate how involved you should be. You should be more aware of what your family members are doing than a neighbor. But remember that you have every right to report abuse, even if you are just a delivery person who noticed something shady in the 5 minutes you were at the door. Let’s all make an effort to look out for one another.