What is an elder advocate?

An older advocate is someone who works to advocate and protect older people. Elder advocacy can take many forms. In some cases, advocating for the elderly may mean writing to state legislators to pass laws that protect the elderly and punish abusive or negligent caregivers and care facilities. An elder advocate may also work with state adult protective services, social workers, or elder care facilities to ensure that older clients' needs are met and their civil rights are protected. Some elder advocates work with people to make sure they get the care they need and to help them find it if they don't.

As the elderly population increases in the US and Europe, so do cases of elder abuse. Tracking and preventing elder abuse is extremely difficult for state agencies because elder domestic abuse often goes undetected or unreported, and abuse in care facilities can be hidden from inspectors. States across the United States are inconsistent in their laws defining and punishing elder abuse, so an elder advocate can help by working with state legislators to raise awareness and pass laws that protect older people in risk.

The National Center on Elder Abuse estimated in 2003 that 1 to 2 million older Americans experienced some form of abuse, exploitation, or neglect. Older people are particularly vulnerable to abuse because they may be completely dependent on another person for their daily needs, or because of diminished physical or mental capabilities. The abuse can be physical, emotional, or exploitative. An older advocate could be a neighbor who suspects a problem and helps an older person by reporting suspected abuse to social workers or local police.

Some cities have elder abuse hotlines for victims, neighbors, and caregivers to anonymously report suspected abuse. Local elder advocacy agencies are also being formed, with paid or volunteer employees who are trained to identify and report abuse. These senior advocates may work with individual seniors, with caregivers at home, or in care facilities. Her job is to raise awareness of the signs of abuse and work with older people to help them find ways to get out of abusive situations.

Many elder care facilities are installing elder advocacy protocols, which a local elder advocate could monitor or help with employee training. These protocols establish what the rights of patients and clients are, what constitutes abuse, and the appropriate avenues and standards of responsibility for reporting, preventing, and punishing neglect, abuse, and exploitation.

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