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World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

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June 14, 2012
Washington, DC

I want to welcome all of you to this important conversation about elder abuse – a topic that is so important, but that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.

Last year, the first Baby Boomers, the generation of Americans born after World War II, turned 65. And since then about 10,000 Americans have turned 65 each day. Between 2010 and 2030, the number of Americans 65 and older will nearly double, and the number who are 85 and older is on pace to grow by over 400 percent by 2050.

Today, seniors are leading vibrant lives well into old age, remaining active in their communities and living in their homes. We owe it to them to ensure that they are safe and free from abuse and exploitation.

While all states and communities have adult protective systems in place, elder abuse remains an under-recognized human and civil rights issue that demands our attention. Today, we know that at least one in every 10 seniors is a victim of abuse each year.

And elder abuse can take many forms. It can be neglect by a caregiver, physical abuse from a stranger, mental abuse from a family member, or financial abuse from a trusted friend or neighbor.

In one case, Mrs. Smith lived on her own but with some of the cognitive issues that come with old age. When she told a neighbor she wasn’t feeling well, the neighbor asked what was wrong. Mrs. Smith offered that she had not been taking her medication as prescribed because she didn’t “have the money she used to” and was “cutting corners”. When the neighbor asked about other necessities like groceries, Mrs. Smith told her that she’d been getting those thanks to a “nice young man” who had volunteered to shop for her so she didn’t have to use public transportation.  This made the neighbor suspicious. She pushed Mrs.  Smith on how she paid this man for the groceries.  Mrs. Smith responded that it wasn’t a problem – she just gives her new friend her ATM card.

And cases like Mrs. Smith’s are just the ones we know about. Research suggests that only about one case gets reported for every 24 that take place.  Abuse goes unreported for a lot of reasons.  Seniors might feel ashamed or embarrassed by the abuse. They may think that if they report the abuse they’ll be forced give up their independence. Or they might fear that if they report something, the abuse will get worse. That is a tragedy.

But even when seniors, or others in a community, want to report abuse, they don’t always know how to take action.  Right now, adult protective services is handled at the state and local level. Some states do it very well, but in others, the ability to address this critical problem is inadequate.

At the same time, we’ve never had a truly coordinated federal response to elder abuse.  Programs are largely fragmented reducing their impact on the problem. In short, federal leadership has been lacking in the past.

Seniors suffering from elder abuse often do so in the shadows.  They have few people to turn to and few places to go. Many in our country just looked the other way. This is a big national problem that we don’t acknowledge at the national level

The Obama Administration is ensuring that this message doesn’t remain in the shadows anymore. And that’s what today’s event it all about- raising public awareness of the problem so we can work together to end it.

We’ve also taken concrete steps to create the tools and resources we need to take on elder abuse.

We supported the Elder Justice Act by ensuring its passage as part of the health reform law.  The law has the potential to give federal government the tools to prevent, detect, understand, and intervene or prosecute elder abuse.

As part of the law, today we’re announcing the creation of the Elder Justice Coordinating Council which brings together departments across government, like the Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to make sure elder abuse remains a priority at the federal level.  This Council will also be able to begin looking at the state systems around the country that have gotten results and start the process of scaling up these programs to the national level.

And we haven’t stopped there. Today I’m pleased to announce that we’re putting funds behind this important law with a $5.5 million initial investment under the Affordable Care Act.  Grants will be used to pilot test innovative elder abuse prevention programs with the most potential. And our goal will be to use the most successful programs to create effective methods of preventing elder abuse at the state and local level.

Our Administration has taken these actions because they’re the right thing to do.  They show the nation and the international community that our country stands for the dignity of our seniors and won’t stand for abuse, neglect and exploitation.

But we have a lot more work to do.  With the massive number of unreported cases that take place each year, we need to put an emphasis on education and prevention.  That means getting elder abuse prevention resources in the hands of the public. It also means improving education in the medical, financial and law enforcement communities to help them identify elder abuse or the potential for abuse when they see it, and take action.

As a former Governor, I know that states have a critical role to play. I urge each of you here today, and those watching across the country, to start bringing together state and local officials, community leaders, and those working with seniors in a broad array of fields to begin to put an end to elder abuse. 

Our goal is to create a coordinated system that puts everyone on alert for elder abuse and to create an environment where no one looks the other way.  We’ve taken the first step. Now we need to keep working together to protect the lives and dignity of our nation’s seniors.

Thank you.