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An elder advocate is someone who works to speak for and protect elderly people. Elder advocacy can take many forms. In some cases, elder advocacy may mean writing to state legislators to pass laws that protect the elderly and punish abusive or neglectful caregivers and care facilities. An elder advocate might also work with state adult protective services, social workers, or elder care facilities to ensure that elderly clients’ needs are being met and that their civil rights are being protected. Some elder advocates work with individuals to ensure they’re getting the care they need, and to help them find it if they aren’t.
As the elderly population in the US and Europe increases, cases of elder abuse are also increasing. Tracking and preventing elder abuse is extremely difficult for state agencies because domestic elder abuse often goes unnoticed or unreported, and abuse in care facilities can be hidden from inspectors. US states are inconsistent in their laws that define and punish elder abuse, so an elder advocate can help by working with state lawmakers to increase awareness and pass laws that protect elder people at risk.
The National Center on Elder Abuse estimated in 2003 that 1 to 2 million elderly Americans experienced some form of abuse, exploitation, or neglect. Elderly people are particularly vulnerable to abuse because they might be completely dependent on someone else for their daily needs, or because of diminished physical or mental capacities. Abuse can be physical, emotional, or exploitative. An elder advocate might just be a neighbor who suspects a problem and helps an elderly person by reporting suspected abuse to social workers or local law enforcement.
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 volunteer or paid employees that are trained to identify and report abuse. These elder advocates might work with individual elderly people, with home caregivers, or in-care facilities. Their job is to increase awareness about signs of abuse, and to work with elderly people to help them find ways out of abusive situations.
Many elder care facilities are instating elder advocacy protocols, which a local elder advocate might monitor or assist with employee training. These protocols establish what patients’ and clients’ rights are, what constitutes abuse, and the appropriate avenues and accountability standards for reporting, preventing, and punishing neglect, abuse, and exploitation.