Coordinated Community Response Column

June 15 marks the seventh annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, a day set aside to bring greater recognition to the under-identified and often unspoken problem of elder abuse and neglect.

The vast majority of older people live full and active lives, enjoying good health, happiness and independence. They hold a valuable position in society and make significant contributions to their families, neighbors and communities. However, older people are also at risk of becoming victims of abuse, neglect and exploitation. Sadly, the perpetrators of this abuse are most often family members.

In Wisconsin, elder abuse is defined as: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, self-neglect, treatment without consent and unreasonable confinement or restraint. In Door County, 124 reports of elder abuse and neglect were investigated during 2012. Unfortunately, these statistics likely do not tell the whole story. For every case of abuse that is reported to authorities, experts estimate that as many as five cases are not.

The first step toward preventing elder abuse is raising awareness and minimizing risk. As an older adult, you can:

• Whenever possible, stay active within your community and keep in regular contact with family and friends.

• Maintain your independence. Familiarize yourself with the support services available and don’t hesitate to access them when needed. These services can help you remain independent.

• Look after your health. Exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet and see your doctor for regular checkups.

• If you are receiving care, exercise your right to be involved, to the best of your ability, in all decisions relating to your care, regardless of where you are living.

• Engage in future planning via powers of attorney, living will and estate planning.

• Build in safeguards to prevent abuse and take care to choose someone you trust to fulfill your wishes and handle your finances responsibly. Have the difficult conversation with family members, close friends and your physician so that they are aware of your desires should you ever be unable to speak for yourself or handle your own affairs.

• Write down your wishes regarding care and treatment and keep them updated.

• Use your assets to provide for your own needs. Seek independent legal and financial advice for any transactions that you might be considering.

• Most importantly, if you are uncomfortable or unhappy with anything you are experiencing, tell someone.

Elder abuse can happen to anyone. If it happens to you, remember that you are not alone and you are not at fault. You do not need to continue suffering abuse. Help is available.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of elder abuse, call the Door County Senior Center at 746.2543 or Door County Law Enforcement Dispatch at 746.2400. In an emergency, call 911.

This article is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Teams and the Door County Elder and Adult-at-Risk Interdisciplinary Team.