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One Way To Keep LA Seniors Safe From Abuse: An Active Social Life

Having an active social life could help detect and prevent elder abuse. (Ari Saperstein/LAist)
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Attention seniors and people with aging parents and grandparents: Reports of elder abuse are on the rise in Southern California.

There are a number of strategies for making sure people don't fall victim to abuse, be it financial, emotional or physical. One of those strategies might surprise you: Making sure an older person has an active social life.

"Cultivating social relationships is probably the most effective - and the most inexpensive, by the way - intervention, not only to prevent elder abuse, but to improve the quality of life for older people, irrespective of the medical conditions they face," said Dr. Mark Lachs, the chief medical officer for the New York City Elder Abuse Center.


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Social isolation can pose a danger to older adults' health and wellbeing. Research has shown that people without social interaction are more likely to have high blood pressure, depression and cognitive decline.

Being home alone with no one to talk to can also make you more vulnerable to the many scams out there designed to rip off older people.

"We believe there are a number of things that prevent abuse. At the top of that list is decreased social isolation," said Jim McAleer, president of Alzheimer's Orange County.

Better support for elder caregivers can also help bring down rates of abuse, he said.

Hy Ton, 79, does physical therapy at Acacia Adult Day Services. The retired welder says he's much healthier than he was before he started coming. (Photo by Michelle Faust Raghavan/LAist)


Sometimes elder abuse prevention comes down to having more people looking out for older adults' safety, said Yesenia Ocampo, program director for SeniorServ Adult Day Health Care Center in Anaheim. And that's what her staff does for the older adults in their care.

SeniorServ staff takes clients "to the restroom, and they are with them pretty much throughout the day - they are our eyes," said Ocampo. "If they notice anything, they report it to us."

Her staff keeps an eye out for signs of neglect or abuse, like bruises or signs of depression.

It's not only professionals who can be on the lookout for signs of elder abuse, said Dr. Bonnie Olsen, a clinical psychologist and elder abuse specialist at USC's Keck School of Medicine. Family and friends can play an important role as well.

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"Step in, not away," said Olsen.

"When something doesn't look right... ask another question. If something seems off... take a look. If someone looks lonely, ask the question and knock on the door," she said.


Having a community can help caregivers, too.

"It's a lot of work" being a caregiver, said Ocampo. "So [our social workers] do provide resources for them."

When a family member provides care for an older adult, they rarely have as much training as they might need to deal with their parent's or grandparent's complicated health needs. There are nonprofit organizations that can fill in the gaps.

Caregivers who commit elder abuse do not always mean to do harm; they may just be "super stressed," McAleer said. "It doesn't excuse it, but it does inform the conversation of how we should be looking to combat it."

That's why programs like adult day health care and in-home respite care are so vital to both older adults and their caregivers, said McAleer.


There are many ways older adults can stay active and healthy, McAleer said.

"There's also a tremendous opportunity for our seniors that we're not capitalizing on," he said. "We're not using them as volunteers, we're not using them as the brain trust that they are."

Lynette Quan Soon, 76, is a mother of seven. She proudly shows her crochet strawberries and other crafts that she makes. (Photo by Michelle Faust Raghavan/LAist)

Lynette Quan Soon, a vibrant 76-year-old mother of seven, agrees.

"A lot of young people think that when you get old, you can't think for yourself," said Quan Soon, who has a full social life with family, church and the three days a week she spends at Acacia Adult Day Services in Garden Grove.

She and people her age still have a lot to offer, she said.

"Old people [are] not garbage. I have all my things working up here," Quan Soon said, pointing to her head.

You can report elder abuse by calling local police or contacting LA County APS online or by phone at (888) 202-4248.

This reporting was supported by the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.