Morrison column: Elderly need help to guard against abuse and neglect

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Guest columnist Melissa Morrison is the long-term care ombudsman for the Catawba Area Agency on Aging.

As Americans, we believe in justice for all. Yet we fail to live up to this promise when we allow older members of our society to be abused or neglected. 
Older people are vital, contributing members of American society, and their maltreatment diminishes all of us. Just as we have confronted and addressed the social issues of child abuse and domestic violence, so too can we find solutions to address issues like elder abuse, which also threatens the well-being of our community.
June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. On that day, communities across the United States and all over the world will sponsor events to highlight solutions to this systemic social challenge. The Catawba Long Term Care Ombudsman Program is proud to participate in this national conversation.
Our society’s policies and practices make it hard for older people to stay involved with and connected to our communities as they age. As a result, older people are more likely to experience social isolation, which increases the likelihood of abuse and neglect.
We can design stronger societal supports to keep our older people connected and protect them from abuse, whether financial, emotional, physical or sexual. When we address a root cause, like social isolation, we also make it less likely that people will neglect themselves.
Older adults who are socially connected and protected from harm are less likely to be hospitalized, less likely to go into nursing homes and less likely to die.
We can and must create healthier and safer living environments for older adults, including their homes, nursing homes, and assisted-living facilities. 
You can help prevent elder abuse and advocate for residents’ rights in long-term facilities by becoming a volunteer ombudsman with the Catawba Long Term Care Ombudsman Program.
If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, contact volunteer coordinator Anna Coomber at (803) 329-9670 or Catawba9@catawba-aging.com.
Get more information about how to make a difference by visiting the National Center on Elder Abuse https://ncea.acl.gov or by calling the Eldercare Locator at (800) 677-1116 to explore local community services and supports.

The Catawba Area Agency on Aging is a private, not-for-profit agency serving Lancaster, Chester, Union and York counties in South Carolina. It plans, coordinates and advocates for the development of community services to meet the needs of older adults.