Preventing Elder Abuse and Neglect Starts with Awareness

What if we told you that roughly 1 in 10 older adults experience some form of elder abuse or neglect, and that most of these incidents are never reported?

Our guess is that you would want to do something to help. One way you can help is to know the signs of elder abuse and what to do if you have concerns.

Know Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is defined as an action– or failure to act– that creates harm or risk for someone age 60 or over. It can be physical, emotional, sexual, or financial. It also includes neglect and self‐neglect.

Elder abuse impacts people across all income levels, cultures, genders, and races. Each case is unique, but these are the most common warning signs:

  • Unexplained financial loss
  • Unexplained bruises or injuries
  • Isolation
  • Verbal abuse
  • Threats
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Rapid decline in health
  • Sudden confusion
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Neglecting care needs
  • Hesitation to speak openly

How you can help

If you think someone is in immediate danger, call 911 or the police.

If there is no immediate danger, but you are concerned about abuse or neglect, call the Mass Elder Abuse Hotline at 1-800-922-2275. The confidential hotline is a gateway to your local Adult Protective Services program, which can help evaluate the situation and work with the older adult to help reduce risk factors.

Local Resources

The Adult Protective Services program at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services investigated more than 400 reports of abuse and neglect in 2020. In many cases, they provided ongoing support to help older adults reduce risk factors.

The name “Adult Protective Services” often gives people the wrong idea of how the program operates. They are not law enforcement and they do not take people into protective custody. They are social workers who specialize in crisis intervention and safety planning. They also often help older adults experiencing self-neglect, by connecting them with helpful resources and helping them avoid housing loss. All Adult Protective Services interactions are strictly confidential.

If you prefer, your local Council on Aging or the anti-domestic violence non-profits Transition House or RESPOND can also provide guidance on elder abuse. Whichever route you feel most comfortable with, we urge you to say something if you have concerns.

Elder Abuse Awareness Month

June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month. Each year Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services and the Cambridge Council on Aging work together to distribute information about elder abuse and local resources. We also send out purple ribbons, which are the symbol of elder abuse awareness, and encourage people to share information on this topic using the hashtag #KnowElderAbuse during the month of June.

The past year has been a unique time. As we engage with our communities this spring, we ask that you be aware of the signs of elder abuse or neglect. Local help is available. Together we can work to reduce elder abuse and provide assistance for those who need it.

Susan Pacheco is director of the Cambridge Council on Aging, which works to promote the health and independence of local older adults by providing meaningful social and recreational options. Norah Al-Wetaid is Director of Adult Protective Services at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services, a non-profit dedicated to supporting the independence and well-being of older adults, and people with disabilities.