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Turning Voices into Action Against Elder Abuse: The Power of Sharing Your Story


By Ana Poblet-Kouttjie, MPH, Project Coordinator, Ageless Alliance & Ann Hablitzel, RN, BSN, MBA, Secretary, Executive Director, Ageless Alliance

“You’re not a victim for sharing your story. you are a survivor setting the world on fire with your truth. And you never know who needs your light, your warmth and raging courage.” – Alex Elle

We hear the statistics, but hearing an account from an actual survivor of elder abuse gives one an entirely different understanding of the crisis that is plaguing our society. We tend to forget that each person who has experienced elder abuse is not just a number or part of a statistic, but someone’s grandmother, grandfather, mother, father, neighbor, or dear friend; a person with a unique voice who has experienced a horrific violation of their dignity. Adding to this dilemma, elder abuse often happens behind closed doors: within families, among so-called friends, or by anonymous scammers who exploit the older adult through a quick phone call or online interchange. The hidden nature of these incidents creates a thick veil, hindering the public from seeing the faces and hearing the voices of those who have been victimized by elder abuse.

Survivors of elder abuse often feel vulnerable and used after being taken advantage of and this often deters them from sharing their story. Understandably, an older adult who has experienced abuse does not often wish to publicize what they have been through. It is a risk to their independence and sense of self-worth for their friends and family to discover that they might not be able take care of their own affairs any longer. To add to this, survivors of elder abuse often withdraw from social interactions and blame themselves, which results in shame and silence. They often isolate themselves as a result of feeling embarrassed and/or depressed after the incident of abuse has occurred. Taking the next step to share what took place is certainly not an easy one.

So, what can be done to help combat this shame, isolation, and silence; to uncover the enormous problem hiding in the shadows? One way is to acknowledge the experiences that these survivors have. We can reach out and help survivors of elder abuse to know that their voices need to be heard and that sharing their experiences is a crucial piece of the fight for elder justice. A personal story of elder abuse can shed light on the issue and perhaps even more importantly, inspire other survivors to share their own experiences and add to the movement. It is not an easy step by any means, but a vital one when it comes to building a widespread understanding of who this issue impacts and how important it is to work together to end it.

When Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton realized that his grandparents had experienced elder abuse, losing the bulk of their life earnings, he realized the very imminent threat that is elder abuse and the absolute necessity to speak out. Ashton’s grandparents were swindled out of nearly $300,000 in cash and property and ultimately had to sell their family home to recover from the enormous loss. Ashton and his mother Roslyn felt strongly compelled to share what took place and help in the effort to build awareness. They realized that these stories are not shared nearly enough and that they themselves could have a role in changing this. To see a powerful video about their story, please visit:https://agelessalliance.org/new-ageless-alliance-psa-videos/. Their story is just one example of how common elder abuse is and how important it is to speak out.

Ageless Alliance is a non-profit that unites people who stand against elder abuse. One of our main goals is to gather stories from survivors of elder abuse and share them publicly to both bring awareness to the crisis of elder abuse and bring the issue to the attention of political leaders. Do you have a story to share? Do you know someone that has experienced elder abuse? Visithttps://agelessalliance.org/sign-up/ or call (844)-992-4353. To make this generation something that we can be proud of, we need to work together to help get the word out, so that we no longer see only the devastating statistics of elder abuse, but also hear the voices of those who are at the center of the epidemic. Share your story today or encourage someone you know to pick up the phone or go online. Help us turn voices into action, and victims into survivors. The need is urgent and the time is now.

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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.