Don’t Let Elder Abuse Fly Under the Radar

There are many types of elder abuse, but a common thread is that it’s a problem that far too often goes unreported.

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) estimates that 10 percent of older adults experience some form of abuse each year—with less than 5 percent of those incidents reported to authorities.

Purple RibbonThere are many factors in play here: Often the victim doesn’t recognize that they’re being abused, doesn’t know where to get help, or is hesitant to get a loved one in trouble. Studies indicate that most abusers are family members or trusted care providers, which further complicates things.

The consequences of this unseen crisis are grave: older adults who are abused are twice as likely to be hospitalized, four times as likely to go into nursing homes and three times as likely to die. And unfortunately, the general public often isn’t aware of how common elder abuse is.

Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) is taking a proactive approach to raising awareness about this issue for World Elder Abuse Prevention Day, on June 15. We’re distributing fact sheets, which come attached to purple ribbons—the symbol of elder abuse awareness. We’re asking people to wear these ribbons with pride, and learn about elder abuse and how to prevent it.

In case you missed our flyers, here are some common warning signs of elder abuse:

  • Increase in falls
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Verbal abuse of the elder
  • Increased isolation
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Decreased mobility
  • Sudden aggression
  • Refusal to use an assistive device, such as a walker or cane
  • Change in ability to care for themselves
  • Significant change in memory

The SCES Elder Protective Services (PS) program is a great resource for combatting elder abuse. PS takes confidential reports, assesses the level of potential threat, and follows-up as needed to break the cycle of abuse.

The name “Protective Services” generates a lot of misconceptions, typically around concerns the victim’s wishes will be ignored, or that they’ll be relocated against their will. In reality, PS caseworkers work with the older adults to find minimally invasive home-based solutions whenever possible. Elders who have the capacity to make their own decisions can refuse help, even if it means staying in an unsafe situation. Sadly, they often do.

Protective Services at SCES respects the right of elders to make their own decisions. For us, the imperative is that people know what constitutes elder abuse, and that Protective Services is here to help, when it’s reported.

We understand that each incidence of elder abuse is unique. If in doubt, give us a call. We’re happy to confidentially answer your questions.

By: Nathan Lamb, Director of Outreach and Community Relations for Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services.

SCES Elder Protective Services can reached at 617-628-2601 during normal business houses and through the Elder Abuse Hotline (1-800-922-2275) at all other times.

SCES is also a member of the Cambridge Elder Abuse Prevention Coalition, which provides education, outreach and prevention resources in Cambridge. For more info about the coalition, contact Susan Pacheco at 617-349-6220 or