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Merging Our Elder Justice Lenses with Heart Shaped Lenses


By Alycia Cisneros, MSW

The month of February sends a heart shaped wave over many of our communities, highlighting one of America’s favorite Hallmark holidays- Valentine’s Day. Stores are filled with heart shaped candy boxes, floral shops are covered in ads for us to buy a bouquet for our special someone, and our favorite restaurants are featuring couples prefixed meals. Whether we are celebrating with a partner, best friends, some self-care, or abstaining from celebrating all together, the holiday still seems to take over the month of February.

From the perspective of elder justice, this overwhelming wave of heart shaped goods sheds a light on concerns regarding ageism, isolation, and scam threats. We can see examples of ageism in many ads featuring young adults exchanging gifts or affection, while often older adults are left out. Is this messaging meant to tell us that as we age, we are no longer eligible for romance? Rather, statistics show consumers over 55 years old dominate in almost every category of Valentine’s Day purchases (Tighe, 2021) and spend nearly twice the amount on the holiday compared to those under 40 years old (Hecht, 2020).

Regarding isolation, we are approaching the three-year mark of the pandemic with continued orders to physically distance to avoid infection that has disproportionally impacted members of the community over 65 years old. COVID-19 has become the third leading cause of death among Americans 65 and older, after heart disease and cancer (Bosman et al., 2021). This statistic raises the question, how many older adults have lost the partner or best friend that they previously have celebrated Valentine’s Day with because of this virus? Loss and physical distancing have escalated concern regarding isolation, a red flag of elder abuse, among our older neighbors. Social isolation can cause risk of poor health and mental health behaviors, including being sedentary, neglect to physical healthcare, and increased levels of dependence (ACL, 2020).

With so much romance being promoted around us this month and increase in isolation due to the pandemic, many of us are excited about finding someone to feel connected with this Valentine’s Day. While looking for the beginning of a new love story, it is important to be aware of scams. The Sweetheart Scam is a scheme that can be perpetrated online or in-person. The person perpetrating the scam convinces someone that they are in love, using the emotion to bilk money from the unsuspecting person—oftentimes an isolated older person. We can all avoid this scam by googling online dating matches, refraining from revealing too much personal information with a stranger, meeting for dates in safe locations, and never providing banking information (NCEA, 2019). Regardless of our age or how we meet new people, we should all feel safe while looking for someone special. 

While celebrating this wonderful month of love, we can all merge our elder justice lenses with our rosy heart shaped lenses to promote a safe Valentine’s Day for everyone of all ages this year. Here are some ways we can uplift one another this holiday:

As the month of February, and Hallmark, work to sweep up our hearts in the coming weeks remember your elder justice lens to ensure everyone of all ages in our lives can feel the love this Valentine’s Day.


Administration for Community Living ACL. (2020). 2020 Profile of Older Americans. Administration for Community Living. https://acl.gov/sites/default/files/Aging%20and%20Disability%20in%20America/2020ProfileOlderAmericans.Final_.pdf

Bosman, J., Harmon, A., and Sun, A. (2021). As U.S. Nears 800,000 Virus Deaths, 1 of Every 100 Older Americans Has Perished. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/13/us/covid-deaths-elderly-americans.html

Hecht, A. (2020). Here’s how much Americans plan to spend on Valentine’s Day gifts. CNBC.

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/13/how-much-americans-plan-to-spend-on-valentines-day.html

National Center on Elder Abuse NCEA. (2019). Sweetheart Scam Factsheet. https://eldermistreatment.usc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/NCEA_SweetheartScam_FactSheet_web.pdf

Tighe, D. (2021).  Gifts Americans are planning to purchase for Valentine’s Day by age. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/965136/gifts-americans-are-planning-to-purchase-for-valentines-day-by-age/

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Special Thanks to Judith D. Tamkin

We are sincerely appreciative to Judith D. Tamkin for her gift to help establish the USC Center on Elder Mistreatment’s website. Her deep and personal commitment to eradicating elder abuse is helping to reshape our understanding of elder abuse and ultimately save innumerable older adults from abuse and neglect.