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Asking the Hard Questions About Elder Abuse and Finding the Answers

By Laura Mosqueda MD, Director of the National Center on Elder Abuse & professor of Family Medicine and Geriatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC

July 11, 2016

In case you haven’t noticed: it’s July (that’s right…just 5 months until Christmas)!  Independence Day gives us time to reflect on what a wonderful country we live in as we bask in the glow of fireworks and gasp in the flow of potato salad. It also provides us with an opportunity to think about how we can do better, as individuals and as a nation.

In the midst of celebration with friends and family let’s remember the vulnerable folks who have been and are being victimized. The fact is that there are direct and indirect victims: it is clear that each case of abuse and neglect affects many more than one person. The loved ones of elder victims are traumatized as well, often wondering what they could have done differently and how they can help their loved one cope with their situation. It is also clear that abuse and neglect is often a process rather than (or in addition to) a discrete event. We have learned through Elder Death Review Teams that elders who have been neglected to death often suffered for months or years.

This is also a chance for us to ask some hard questions of ourselves:

  • What does it mean when an elder would rather stay at home and be abused and neglected rather than go to a nursing home?
  • When a person asks: “do people with Alzheimer’s Disease feel pain?” (a question I have answered on several occasions) what does this indicate about our capacity to dehumanize people with dementia?
  • Why do many of the organizations that represent older adults ignore the reality of frailty, dementia, abuse and neglect?
  • What does it say about our national priorities that we have not funded the Elder Justice Act?

But against this backdrop are many reasons to hope. I was reminded of this on June 15th- World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. In contrast to 2 years ago when the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) documented activities in 30 states, this year every state had at least one event. We were proud that many communities utilized the toolkits available on our website and that social media lit up with postings, blogs, tweets and maybe even a carrier pigeon to bring the message: elder abuse is a problem that has solutions.

I hope you’ll join us at the Judith D. Tamkin Symposium on Elder Abuse, Sept 15-16 in Los Angeles. We’ll do a deep dive into issues that have plagued the field for many years and hear from brilliant thinkers. It will be an invigorating, informative, and enjoyable event that is oriented to finding solutions.

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