What Does Elder Abuse Mean to Me? Our Collective Responsibility to Equality

What Does Elder Abuse Mean July 4th is the day to celebrate our dream of freedom and equality. But June is the month to remember the reality of our inequality and our aching responsibility to recommit to freedom. June is World Elder Abuse Awareness Month, and we will work to lift the veil of denial, finger-pointing, and mistaken relief that elder abuse “isn’t my problem.” The problems and the solutions belong to every single one of us as an interdependent community made up of diverse ages, lifestyles, and personal desires for happiness.

It may not be our fault that we grew up in a societal structure teaching us that aging translates as a deterioration of ability and status and an escalation of vulnerability. However, it is our unequivocal responsibility to wake up to the truth that all are created equal and deserve fair and compassionate treatment, regardless of where they are along the journey of life. No more hitting the snooze button as if problems of elder abuse were relegated to only a small, poor handful of aging adults whom we can’t reach or see.

What does elder abuse mean to each one of us? Age is a relative trait that we all share, just as equality is a relative condition that depends on our consistent involvement and right action as individuals and as a society. July 4th reminds us that freedom and equality aren’t passive gifts—they depend on persistent and public action against seemingly impenetrable obstacles. Elder Abuse Awareness Month in June calls us to shine a light on those obstacles to equal freedom and then work together to repair societal imbalances that continue to allow for elder mistreatment.

What Does Elder Abuse Mean to Our Society?

Every day, elder abuse is taking place in our communities. Roughly one in 10 adults over 60 will experience some form of abuse, including those instances that are reported and many more still that pass without awareness or justice. Some cases of elder abuse are physical; others are domestic, emotional, psychological, sexual, financial, exploitative, or neglectful in nature—or some combination of these routes of abuse. These situations of abuse can be really difficult to see: sometimes because no one we know is involved, sometimes because it’s easier to ignore what’s going on than to feel the pain of it, and sometimes because the very isolation that perpetuates the problem of elder abuse is the same problem that keeps it under wraps.

But our difficulty can never be an excuse to neglect our older citizens’ rights to fair and equal treatment. Remember that neglect constitutes abuse when it puts older adults at risk of harm. When our policies and social infrastructure neglect to provide our aging loved ones with the resources they need to participate as active members of society, their needs go unmet and they live in dangerous isolation. This puts them at great risk of both self-neglect and abuse at the hands of family members, caregivers, neighbors, exploitative financial and commercial interests, and those who do not even know they are doing harm by turning a blind eye to their suffering.

On the other hand, when all of us, regardless of age, have access to safe transportation, health and well-being resources, professional assistance bound by transparency and accountability, and protection by law against all forms of abuse, we are fulfilling an important part of our mutual commitment to freedom and equality. It’s important that we start talking about these issues as they relate to our family members, older adults in our communities, and even those who we don’t know. And it’s important that we include older adults in these conversations toward awareness of elder abuse, social progress, and legislative protection for aging adults’ safety and freedom, as well as legislative advancement of resources to support their active community involvement and needs.

Awareness of Elder Abuse Leads Us to Recommit to Our Equality

While June as Elder Abuse Awareness Month is about lifting the veil that perpetuates misunderstanding and enabling abuse of our older community members, we will not leave behind the movement come July. Awareness is just the first critical step toward cutting off instances of elder abuse at the roots—our own misperceptions of what aging and older adults represent. Click here to read more about the real solutions to abuse through public policy and even through the ways that we think and communicate about our older loved ones on a daily basis. If you suspect your aging loved one might be experiencing any type of abuse, contact the Adult Protective Services (APS) agency in your state. To speak with someone right away, call 1-800-677-1116.

My equality is your equality is her equality is his equality. You can’t truly have freedom through equality unless we all have it, and neither can I. Wanting it for myself can’t be separated from wanting it for everyone everywhere. Many older adults harbor past stories of fighting for freedom and equality in world wars and other important movements here at home—at times when the lack of freedom was louder and more recognizable. Their efforts lead directly to many of the freedoms we can enjoy today as a community. We owe much to their commitments.

The endeavor for equality in our social experience will never be over, simply because it will never be a passive reality. Even when the lack of freedom is quieter and harder to see behind closed doors and our own closed awareness, it is our responsibility to keep paving the path to a peaceful existence where everyone, no matter their age, can enjoy a life of agency and personal freedom.

Whether you know of an instance of elder abuse in your midst or you are stirred by a passion for equality, we can help direct you toward resources, services, and real courses of action. Get in touch with us today and remember that you are not alone in the face of problems or solutions.

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Institute on Aging

Committed to offering thoughtful discussions and resources to older adults, their families, and their caregivers.

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