The White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA), an event that occurs every ten years, will be held this summer in Washington D.C. Over the last five months the WHCoA has been holding a series of regional forums designed to listen and involve older adults and stakeholders in shaping aging policies over the next decade. The fifth and final regional forum will be in Boston on May 28th, 2015. The 2015 conference will focus on four areas: ensuring retirement security, promoting healthy aging, providing long-term services and supports, and elder justice. The inclusion of elder justice on the WHCoA agenda is very significant and timely for a number of reasons.
First- most people don’t know what elder justice is. Elder Justice is a term coined fairly recently to focus on issues related to elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Elder abuse in Massachusetts is defined as physical abuse, emotional and verbal abuse, sexual abuse, caretaker abuse and neglect, financial exploitation, and self neglect. Addressing these issues can be complex and nuanced.. Often at play are issues of capacity, entrenched family dynamics, mental illness, or physical frailty. Yet what is at stake is potential suffering, harm, and distress both for victims and for their loved ones. It is also an issue that transcends all of our differences and impacts elders of all races, cultures, religions, social classes, and geographic areas
In addition, elder abuse is not an issue on the horizon—it is here and happening now. The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that over five million older Americans are victims of some form of abuse every year. That number is only expected to grow over the coming years as our elderly population continues to grow in size and to grow older.
This is a crucial time to address this problem in the communities where we live and work.
The White House Conference on Aging provides the elder justice with a very prominent platform. We have a golden opportunity to increase public awareness of this critical, multi-disciplinary issue and to continue to develop multi-disciplinary solutions to this problem. We are hoping that the spotlight provided by the WHCoA will spur an increase in funding, focus, and awareness of this issue, because what Elder Justice ultimately means is that we are able to create communities where all older adults can live meaningful, self-directed, and dignified lives free from abuse and neglect.