On June 15th, citizens worldwide will commemorate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to help bring awareness to the millions of older adults subject to elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation each year. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 2.1 million older Americans are mistreated annually. Unfortunately, experts agree that this statistic is low and that for every case of elder abuse reported, as many as five more remain unreported.

How do you protect yourself and your loved ones from becoming the next victim? What preventative steps can you take to ensure that you and your loved ones are as insulated as possible from threats? Let us share with you several steps that you can take to help protect your loved ones from elder abuse.

1. Be proactive.

Even if you or your senior loved one is in good health, being prepared for an emergency or healthcare crisis is critical. This means choosing to make your legal choices as soon as possible. By establishing an agent through planning tools such as the Durable Power of Attorney, you and your senior loved one are proactively deciding who will have the legal authority should a time come when you are incapacitated. These crucial legal decisions can help protect your loved one’s person and assets from predators.

2. Stay informed.

Make a point to visit your loved one often. By keeping in regular contact, you will recognize changes in behavior and have an opportunity to step in and take over affairs if necessary. Be involved, ask direct questions, and pay attention. Asking simple questions may reveal underlying issues and provide your loved one with a safe outlet to express his or her concerns. Do not avoid asking these questions when there is a family caregiver involved. Although it can be hard to believe that neglect could originate with a loved one, ask questions about family caregivers who are involved in assisting your senior loved one.

3. Learn the signs.

Elder abuse typically begins with isolation. Whether your loved one lives alone, has a caregiver in the home, or lives in a long-term facility, it is crucial to have access to him or her at any time of day or night. Not being allowed to meet with your loved one alone, unexplained signs of injury, or your loved one being taken to multiple medical facilities for treatment are all key indicators that may signal elder abuse is occurring. Keep in mind that abuse is not always physical. Neglect, emotional abuse, and financial exploitation are all forms of elder abuse.

4. Check-in regularly, even from afar.

If you live in a different state from your loved one, you may not be immediately available to address any sudden changes in his or her health or daily needs. Many long-distance caregivers seek help from geriatric case managers to oversee the day-to-day financial and medical concerns of their loved ones. Establishing a local support system is crucial. Recruit the help of local neighbors, family, and friends to check in on your loved one every day or two. If the time comes that a caring neighbor isn’t enough, you may wish to consider long-term care options to ensure your loved one is receiving more assistance than can reasonably be provided at home.

5. Know when to take further action.

Remember, at all times we are a resource for you. Further, if you suspect your loved one is in immediate danger, don’t hesitate to contact the authorities. If you don’t believe the danger is immediate but suspect abuse is occurring, voice your concerns to adult protective services, the state ombudsman, or involve the local police department. When it comes to protecting your loved one, no measure is too extreme.

These are just a few of the ways that elder abuse can impact you or your loved ones. Do not wait to be proactive and take steps to protect yourself and those you love. If this article raises more questions than it answers, do not wait to call our office and schedule a meeting with Attorney Alan Hougum.