Engage with elders, take action against elder abuse

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By Wally Pearce, Winters Elder Day Council Special to the Express An 80-year-old woman is grappling with the shame that her own family member stole from her, causing her to lose her retirement savings. But the emotional pain of her once-close family bond being ripped apart is far worse than having to rebuild her finances at an age when she should be living comfortably in retirement. This quiet shame is being silently felt throughout California, and that includes Yolo County. But it’s also this quiet humiliation that prevents family members from reporting what can often be measured as criminal behavior. As a result of this reluctance to report, there’s only modest data available on the prevalence of elder abuse in California and each of its 58 counties. The World Health Organization estimates about one in six people aged 65 and over will be victims each year. Elder abuse is defined in California as a crime. Under California Penal Code 368, California law defines the crime of elder abuse as physical or emotional abuse, neglect or financial exploitation of a victim who is 65 years of age or older. The offense can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony, and is punishable by up to four years of jail or prison. Tuesday, June 15, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) as defined from an annual initiative launched in 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization. In its 66/127 resolution, the United Nations designated June 15 — WEAAD — as a day in where the entire world, including local communities, voice their opposition to any form of abuse of our older generations. WEAAD provides an opportunity for communities around the world, including at the local level, to promote a better understanding of elder abuse by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting them. Elder abuse is one of the least investigated types of violence and does not get addressed in community action plans as frequently as other key social issues. Abuse, neglect and financial exploitation are not the inevitable consequences of growing old. We all have a role to play in changing how we talk about elder abuse in our communities. Respecting the dignity and rights of people of all ages is a core American value, and a principle built into many American laws. For example:

  • The Elder Justice Act establishes programs and initiatives to strengthen the federal response to elder abuse, promote elder justice research and support state Adult Protective Services (APS) systems.
  • The Older Americans Act (OAA) creates programs and services that help older adults stay healthy and engaged in their communities.
  • The Nursing Home Reform Act establishes a “Resident’s Bill of Rights” for people in most long-term care facilities. It includes the right to privacy, to participate in all aspects of care, to complain without retribution, and to visits from friends and medical providers.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act protects the civil rights of people with disabilities of all ages and helps make our communities more accessible and age friendly.

The seven types of elder abuse are: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, neglect, abandonment, financial abuse and self-neglect. Our society is like a building. Just as buildings need strong supports and secure beams to remain strong, our society needs solid “social” beams so that we can all participate fully in our communities, living free from abuse as we age. As we commemorate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, I hope you will join the Winters Elder Day Council in lifting up the voices of survivors, and taking action, such as engaging with the older people in your life, empowering members of our community with information, involving our students and young people, or by speaking out. Anyone residing in Yolo County or the City of Winters who suspects that an older adult is the subject of elder abuse — physical or financial abuse, neglect, abandonment, abduction, isolation, deprivation of goods or services or other treatment with resulting pain or mental suffering — can make a confidential referral alleging abuse or neglect by calling Yolo County APS at 530-661-2727 or 1-888-675-1115. For those residing in the City of Winters, call either APS — 888-675-1115 or 530-661-2727 — or contact the City of Winters Police Department at 530-795-2261. All calls are confidential.

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