June 15 marks the sixth annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, established to shed light on the abuse of elderly adults, a problem that is still not widely recognized but has become a concern in communities across the nation.
Elder abuse includes physical, emotional, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as neglect and exploitation. With a Baby Boomer population of more than 75 million now entering their retirement years, this problem will soon be one many families must confront.
One in 10 adults over the age of 65 have experienced some form of elder abuse. Elder abuse is greatly underreported and often goes unrecognized. More often than not, the abuser is either a family member or caregiver.
Elder abuse is often unintentional and in many cases, those involved may not even recognize that what is happening is abusive. Caregiver burnout, stress, financial pressures, lack of resources, resentment and improper training can all lead to an abusive situation.
While elder abuse can happen to anyone, the most vulnerable adults in our community are those with dementia, mental health issues and those who are isolated.
As a community we must educate ourselves to recognize the signs of abuse and to intervene to prevent it from continuing. Whether it is reaching out to a home-bound neighbor, stopping by to check on an older friend or reporting suspected abuse to the authorities, we can make a difference in the lives of the older adults living in our communities.
Katie Cashman, Baltimore
The writer is director of adult day services and elder abuse programs at Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland.