Recognizing the Many Social Impacts of Elder Abuse

By Susan Pacheco and Norah Al-Wetaid

Many in the elder services field have long known that elder abuse is a common issue that often goes unreported. However, some new data is helping illustrate how widespread this problem is in the Bay State.

In a recent WBGH story, the Executive Office of Elder Affairs reported 9,800 confirmed cases of elder abuse in 2017– an increase of nearly 40 percent since 2015.

A couple of key factors were cited to explain that growth. First, there was some optimism that efforts to raise awareness about the many forms of elder abuse are leading to more incidents being reported. But Massachusetts Secretary of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs Alice Bonner cited the rapidly growing population of older adults as a factor, adding that financial exploitation—often by family members—is a growing problem.

Roughly 10 percent of older adults experience some form of elder abuse, which can be physical, emotional, sexual, or financial. Self-neglect is another, often overlooked, form of elder abuse. It’s an issue that affects individuals regardless of income level, culture, gender, race or sexual orientation.

Despite progress being made with raising awareness and increasing reports, most elder abuse goes unreported-we’ve heard everything from one in 14 incidents being reported to one in 24.

Given the prevalence of elder abuse, it is critically important to recognize common warning signs:

  • Unexplained injuries or financial loss
  • Isolation
  • Verbal abuse or threats
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Rapid decline in health of unexplained weight loss
  • Neglected care needs
  • Hesitation to speak openly

June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month, and for the third straight year Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) and the Cambridge Council on Aging are partnering to distribute information on recognizing elder abuse and purple ribbons, which are a symbol of this cause.

As part of Elder Abuse Awareness Month, the Cambridge Council on Aging, SCES, and Cambridge Elder Abuse Prevention Coalition are exploring how opioid misuse increasingly plays into elder abuse, with a free event at the Cambridge Senior Center (806 Mass Ave.) on Thursday, June 14 from 12:30 to 3 p.m.

Titled “Promoting Elder Wellness in Your Community”, the event will feature a mini-resource fair and light refreshments at 12:30, followedby performances of common scenarios by True Story Theatre. Attendees are also invited to bring any expired or unused medications as part of a drug takeback facilitated by the Cambridge Police and Public Health Departments.

Finally, if you are concerned about an older adult and have reason to believe they are being abused, call the Statewide Elder Abuse Hotline at 1-800-922-2275. All calls are confidential, and are referred to local Adult Protective Services, which can investigate and determine the best course of action to alleviate risk.

Awareness and knowing how to counter elder abuse are the key first steps to mitigating this silent epidemic. Please join us in that goal for Elder Abuse Awareness Month and beyond.

Susan Pacheco is the Executive Director of the Cambridge Council on Aging. Norah Al-Wetaid is a Senior Protective Services Caseworker at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services. For more information about the Promoting Elder Wellness in Your Community event, contact Pacheco at 617-349-6220 or The event is free, but preregistration is requested.