Elder abuse is an issue that impacts people throughout our communities but too often remains unseen. June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, providing an opportunity to shine some light on an issue that we should all be invested in, and to give some thought about the elders in our lives who may be in need of our support.

The Androscoggin Elder Abuse Task Force was formed 10 years ago with a goal of raising awareness of this important issue and creating a community where all of our elders have access to safety and security.

Elder abuse comes in many shapes, sizes and situations. We’ve all heard stories of seniors targeted and taken advantage of by scam artists online, over the phone or in person. Sometimes the culprits are paid caregivers or others looking to profit from the vulnerability of elders. But often the most difficult abuse for a person of any age to deal with is abuse that comes from someone the victim loves.

Domestic violence can impact anyone, regardless of their age, gender, socioeconomic status, or race. Elders that are experiencing domestic violence may be in a relationship that has been abusive since the beginning, or the abuse may emerge later in life as both partners age. Sometimes the abuse comes from other family members, such as adult children or grandchildren who have taken on a caregiving role. Perpetrators of abuse seek to control their victim and may use a variety of tactics to maintain that control. People often think of physical violence as the primary form of abuse; it is often the easiest to see because of the visible signs of injury. Older adults in particular may be more vulnerable to injury from physical abuse as their health and physical condition change with age.

As harmful as physical abuse may be, however, it is emotional abuse that often has the longest lasting effects. Emotional abuse might not leave the visible marks that physical violence does, but belittling, threats and name-calling by a loved one leave their own kind of scars. For someone that has been in an abusive marriage for 30, 40, even 50 years, it may be difficult to imagine a life that doesn’t include abuse or the spouse.

It is hard for any victim of violence to speak out and ask for help, but many of the elderly face additional barriers. They are often more isolated than others due to loss of mobility, and if they are no longer in the work force, often have little or no contact with others outside the home. They are frequently dependent on their abuser for care, making it even more difficult for them to reach out for help. They may fear they’ll be unable to live independently or care for themselves if their abuser is arrested. If the abuser is a spouse or family member, they may wish for the abuse to stop while at the same time fearing the loss of a relationship with their loved one if they speak out.

Knowing what to look for is the first step in helping someone. Some signs that an elder you know may be experiencing abuse include frequent unexplained injuries, inconsistent stories regarding injuries, 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.

If you see these things and think an elder you know is in an unsafe situation, don’t be afraid to start a conversation. Discuss your observations and concerns in a safe, private setting. Try not to make assumptions or judge the victim or their choices. Let them know that you care and want to help, but respect their privacy and their wishes if they are not ready to talk. You do not need to be an expert to ask “How can I help?” There are resources available in our community.

Safe Voices works with people of all ages in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties who are experiencing domestic violence. The 24 hour helpline (1-800-559-2927) is free and confidential. Advocates can provide support, information and referrals. Advocates can also meet in person with people experiencing abuse to safety plan and assist with the court process.

A concerned and educated community is the most important resource for a victim of elder abuse. You may never know how your willingness to reach out and offer help has impacted someone else.

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

Kelley Glidden

Every older adult deserves a life that includes safety and respect and is free from fear and abuse. To that end, the Androscoggin Elder Abuse Task Force is hosting their 8th annual Senior Resource Fair from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, June 15 at the East Auburn Baptist Church. The event will feature speakers on a variety of 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.


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