June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day which provides a good opportunity to reflect on that issue and the role we all can play in helping to end elder abuse.

Maine has the oldest population of any state in the nation, and as residents continue to age they may face the continued risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Seniors can be more vulnerable to abuse for many reasons, including social isolation, mobility or communication challenges, and general health issues. The good news is that there are steps we each can take to be a part of the solution.

The first step is to be informed.

You do not need to be an expert to know what elder abuse and exploitation is and what it looks like. We have all heard of scams targeting the elderly, sometimes in person or, more often, via phone or email.

Scammers look to profit from the vulnerability of seniors and financial losses can be particularly damaging for someone in later life, as they are on a fixed income or no longer have the ability to earn an income to replace their losses.

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Financial exploitation can also happen closer to home when family members or friends seek to take advantage of their relationship to gain access to an elderly person’s resources.

Elder abuse can also be a form of domestic violence, which can make victims more reluctant to reach out for help. It can be difficult for anyone experiencing abuse or exploitation to talk about what is going on and to ask for assistance.

When the perpetrator is a loved one, the victim may be especially reluctant. As much as they may want the abuse to end, they often do not want their spouse or child to be cut out of their life or be sent to jail. They may have been experiencing abuse for decades and do not know that there are alternatives.

Knowing what to look for is the first step in helping someone. Some signs that an elder you know may be abused include frequent unexplained injuries, inconsistent stories regarding injuries, lack of access to financial resources, lack of social interaction, and abuse of pets in the home. They may be prevented by their abuser from having conversations with others alone, or the abuser may answer for them. They may seem afraid.

As important as recognizing elder abuse and exploitation for what it is, the next step is to speak up about it. Have conversations with the seniors in your life. If you see or hear things that concern you, say something. Help promote the message that there is no excuse for elder abuse.

By breaking the silence around elder abuse and exploitation, we can all help create a culture in which victims can feel more comfortable and supported coming forward to speak about their experience.

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Finally, we can all be a resource. Helping someone in need can be as simple as passing on information about services in the community. There are many organizations that offer a variety of types of assistance to seniors, from domestic violence and sexual assault resource centers to legal advocacy organizations and Area Agencies on Aging.

People can get to know what their community has to offer so they can be in a position to help connect individuals experiencing abuse to the resources and services that can make all the difference in their situation.

By becoming informed, speaking up, and being a resource, we can all play a role in making our communities safer for everyone, including our seniors.

Safe Voices works with people of all ages in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties who are experiencing domestic abuse. The 24-hour helpline (1-800-559-2927) is free and confidential. Advocates are available to work with people in person or over the phone to safely plan and explore options.

The Androscoggin Elder Abuse Task Force meets once a month to bring together representatives from community organizations concerned about the issue of elder abuse with a goal of promoting awareness and education in the community. Members include social service providers, law enforcement, housing authorities and financial institutions.

Anyone interested in getting involved is invited to contact Kelley Glidden at [email protected]

On June 16, the task force is hosting the sixth annual Senior Resource Fair at the Lewiston campus of USM. The event will feature speakers on a variety topics and information tables from local service providers. A free lunch is included. The event is free and open to the public but registration is required. Contact Kelley at 795-6744 to sign up.

Kelley Glidden is the director of community education for Safe Voices, the domestic violence resource center serving Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford Counties, and serves as chair of the Androscoggin Elder Abuse Task Force.


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