Empowering older people in the fight against elder abuse

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, observed on June 15, symbolizes our collective fight against elder abuse. Elder abuse is a social and societal issue that reminds us to promote the respect and dignity of older people.

Elder abuse refers to the intentional or negligent acts of a caregiver or trusted person that harm an older adult. It can take the form of physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and financial abuse – the latter of which is most common and easily carried out through fraud or scams targeting older people. An important step towards preventing this harassment is to equip older adults and their caregivers with the knowledge and resources to help prevent harassment.

The National Council on Aging estimates that approximately 5 million older adults in the United States experience violence each year, and only one in 14 cases are reported. Research estimates that elderly victims of financial fraud lose approximately $30 billion annually.

For older adults, defending against such abuse begins with awareness. Identifying potential scams and flaws such as lottery scams, identity theft or email phishing attempts is crucial. Older adults should be wary of unsolicited phone calls and emails, especially those requesting personal information, money transfers or unusual payment methods such as gift cards, or any such requests that are made with extreme urgency.

The use of technology can also help people protect their financial assets. Turning on bank alerts for large transactions, using apps that track account activity in real time, and setting up direct deposits for checks can minimize the potential for fraud. It is equally important to secure the necessary documents and regularly update your estate planning documents.

Staying connected to family, friends and community can discourage potential perpetrators. However, social isolation has become an increasing problem for many older people, especially during the pandemic. It is crucial for all people around the world to use technology to maintain relationships and stay active in our communities, significantly reducing the risk of exploitation.

Furthermore, older people also need to feel informed and supported to report any incidents of potential abuse. Fear or embarrassment can often stop people from reporting violence. Support from community, family and authorities is key to reassuring older people that they are not alone and that reporting problems is indeed a step towards prevention.

To report elder abuse, older adults or those concerned about elder abuse can use the following resources:

  • Adult Protective Services (APS): APS agencies are the primary agency responsible for receiving and investigating reports of elder abuse.

  • Local Law Enforcement: In situations where an elderly person is in immediate danger, it is extremely important to contact local law enforcement.

  • National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA): This is your resource for preventing elder abuse.

  • ElderCare Locator: Connects you with services for older adults and their families: 1-800-677-1116.

  • Long-Term Care Ombudsman: These are defenders of residents of nursing homes, boarding schools and nursing homes, assisted living facilities, etc.

Through Anthem’s collaborative strategy, Blue Cross and Blue Shield works with health care providers to detect early signs of elder abuse. We have made great strides in implementing caregiver education programs because, in many cases, caregivers are the first line of defense in recognizing the signs of abuse. We not only promote prevention, but we actively invest in providing solutions to help prevent elder abuse.

Our health plans are designed to support older adults by addressing social factors that may impact health, including social isolation – a significant risk factor for elder abuse. Our community members benefit from resources and support services beyond the traditional health care services our plans can provide, including, for example, access to nutritious meals, safe and stable housing, and transportation. We continue to work with organizations, nonprofits and government agencies to create a safer, more supportive society where older people are valued and included and their rights are protected.

Older people are valuable members of our society and it is important that we help ensure their safety and well-being. As we celebrate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, let us commit to not only raising awareness, but also actively working on prevention strategies.

Eugene Hsu, MD, MBA, is a Senior Medicare Clinical Specialist at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield