June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is June 15. It was launched in 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations.

Elder abuse is a largely hidden and growing problem in the United States. It is defined by law as “an act or omission which results in a serious physical or emotional injury to an elderly person or financial exploitation of an elderly person; or the failure, inability or resistance of an elderly person to provide for himself or herself one or more of the necessities essential for physical and emotional well-being without which the elderly person would be unable to safely remain in the community.”

Elder abuse can include physical, sexual, emotional, neglect and financial exploitation. Another form of elder abuse is self-neglect. 

In Massachusetts, self-neglect is a serious and reportable component of elder abuse. It is also a complex, poorly understood problem with public health implications. Although lacking a standardized definition, self-neglect is characterized by profound inattention to health and hygiene. Older adults who are not successfully able to care for themselves, and who refuse help, are at tremendous risk for ill health and even death. 

According to a survey of elder care experts, self-neglect among the elderly is a growing problem that commonly goes unreported. The survey, conducted by the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, found that self-neglect among seniors is the most common form of elder abuse encountered by care managers. 

There are many factors that can cause elders to stop taking care of themselves. including dementia, depression, disease, poverty and isolation. If an elder is deemed clinically capable of making his or her own decisions, even if there are signs of self-neglect, the individual can choose to refuse help, and protective services providers, like SeniorCare’s Protective Services Department, are bound to respect that decision.

For those elders who are capable of making their own choices, there may be a societal and psychological element at play.

Children and animals — whose abuse issues, unlike those of the elderly, capture major media attention — are not expected to care for themselves. But an aging adult has different personal and societal pressures for self-care. They have spent their adult lives not only caring for themselves, but, in most cases, being responsible for the care of others. Adults moving into a phase of life where they need assistance to be independent can experience a challenge to their self-identity and self-worth. Asking for help can be emotionally and psychologically difficult. 

Many older adults who experience a decline in their ability to take care of day-to-day matters fear that asking for help will lead to loss of independence and possible placement in a nursing home or other long-term-care facility. The paradox is that, by accepting help, individuals will become more capable of maintaining their independence and living at home. SeniorCare’s mission is to provide and coordinate services to elders and others that enable them to continue living at home and in their communities.

If you suspect elder self-neglect or other abuse, you can call the Massachusetts-based Elder Abuse Hotline at 800-922-2275.

If you are an aging adult and find you need a little help in order to remain living in your home, call SeniorCare’s Information and Referral Department at 978-281-1750 to determine what help is available.

Join SeniorCare and North Shore community leaders as we raise awareness of elder abuse in June:

Gloucester: Monday, June 10, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., police station flagpole, Main Street. An Elder Abuse Awareness March will step off and travel along Main Street and Rogers Street, followed by hamburgers and hot dogs at the Fitz Henry Lane parking lot (across from Walgreens). The event is supported by SeniorCare, the Gloucester Police Department and the city of Gloucester.

Ipswich: Thursday, June 13, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., Central and Market streets. Residents, businesses and organizations are invited to show their support for Elder Abuse Awareness Month with handmade banners or signs. The event is supported by SeniorCare, the Ipswich Police Department, the Ipswich Council on Aging, Ipswich Fire & Rescue and the Essex County Sheriff’s Department.

Rockport: Thursday, June 13, 10 a.m. to noon, Five Corners. Residents, businesses and organizations are invited to show their support for Elder Abuse Awareness Month with handmade banners or signs. The event is supported by SeniorCare, the Rockport Police Department and the Rockport Council on Aging.

Manchester-by-the-Sea: Thursday, June 13, 2 to 3:30 p.m., Village Green. Residents, businesses and organizations are invited to show their support for Elder Abuse Awareness Month with handmade banners or signs. The event is supported by SeniorCare, the Manchester Police Department and the Manchester Council on Aging.

Beverly: Friday, June 14, 10 a.m. to noon, in front of Beverly City Hall. Residents, businesses and organizations are invited to show their support for Elder Abuse Awareness Month with handmade banners or signs. The event is supported by SeniorCare, the Beverly Police Department, HAWC (Healing Abuse Working for Change) and the Beverly Council on Aging.

Tracy Arabian is the communications officer at SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann’s local area agency on aging.

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