Just as it is an inevitable fact that aging is a part of life, a sadder fact is that many of our elders become subjects of abuse, often from those that are that are entrusted with caring for them.

It’s a serious and widespread issue in need of attention – hence the designation of June as Elder Abuse Awareness Month and June 15 in particular as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

Across the country, people supporting the cause wear purple in an effort to shed light on what is, unfortunately, an all-too-common occurrence in our society. In Bexar County alone, there were more than 10,000 suspected cases, according to Adult Protective Services (APS) in 2023.

As part of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, APS was created to investigate the abuse, neglect, or exploitation of elderly and disabled adults. Adult victims 65 and older are eligible for APS assistance in the form of short-term shelter, home repairs, food, transportation, financial assistance and medical care.

“Unfortunately, elder abuse is still very underreported,” explained Lisa Senteno, a Faith-Based & Community Engagement Specialist with APS in San Antonio. “Last year, Texas APS received over 120,000 [elder abuse] reports. In Bexar County in 2023, we received 10,435 – we’re the second highest in Texas behind Harris County.”

Senteno represents APS as a member of Successfully Aging and Living in San Antonio (SALSA), a program of the San Antonio Area Foundation involving more than 50 local nonprofits coalescing around advocacy and support for older adults in our region.

While APS is unable to exactly pinpoint why the numbers in our area are so high, part of this fact could be due to San Antonio’s comparatively large older adult population. According to APS, there are over 295,000 adults 65 and older – representing nearly 13 percent of Bexar County’s population.

“APS has been a member of our steering committee with SALSA since our inception,” noted Jo Ann Tobias-Molina, SALSA Project Coordinator. “We work together to inform and educate the public about elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. We support each other in ensuring that older adults get the resources available. We have a very strong partnership.”

Elder abuse can occur anywhere, from hospitals to care facilities to even the victims’ own homes. The abuse can come from caregivers and family members or from strangers looking to take advantage of someone in a vulnerable position.

Physical, verbal, sexual, emotional and even financial abuse have all been used to maintain control over someone and all constitute elder abuse. Examples of signs of elder abuse include someone being isolated by their caregiver, unexplained changes in their behavior including displays of fear, cluttered or unkempt living spaces, unpaid bills or increased spending on credit cards and large cash withdrawals.

“Elder abuse is something a lot of people don’t like or want to talk about,” Tobias-Molina explained. “Financial exploitation, for example, is one area where many people are vulnerable. Older adults aren’t often as technologically savvy and can fall victim to these types of scams more easily.”

As part of Elder Abuse Awareness Month, SALSA and APS have a full calendar of activities built around raising awareness regarding elder abuse. These include having buildings in San Antonio lit purple on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, as well as a town hall and a symposium on aging.

We can all do our part to prevent and address elder abuse. Whether you have an older parent or relative, or someone in their neighborhood or place of worship, be diligent, look for the signs, and reach out to them when you can.

“The best advice I can give for the average person as part of elder abuse awareness is to keep your eyes open,” Senteno said. “Abuse is obvious at times, and at other times, it’s hard to find out what’s going on. Think about the older adults that you know and keep an eye on them. It’s important to learn the signs and really listen to them and their situation.”

Want to help SALSA’s work in the community? You can contribute by click here.

Eric Moreno is a contributor to the San Antonio Area Foundation Storytelling Ambassador Network.