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When you count the various forms elder abuse takes: Caregiver abuse, nursing home abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, financial exploitation, domestic violence and neglect—the numbers of seniors being exploited and abused are staggering. The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study found more than 500,000 seniors over the age of  60 were victims of domestic abuse and didn’t include an estimated 84% of incidents that go unreported to authorities—denying victims protection and support.  The high incidence of underreporting has led the Senate Special Committee on Aging to estimate up to five million older Americans are likely victims of abuse, neglect, and/or exploitation every year. 

The warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease we most often hear about are forgetfulness, confusion, and disorientation.  However, as our loved ones age it is crucial we become educated on the early indicators of Alzheimer’s—many of which manifest in physical symptoms. Physical symptoms sometimes appear before any mental symptoms begin to show. It is possible that one or more of these physical changes will be the first signs of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

With Baby boomers rapidly approaching their later years, many families face the decision about how to offer the best quality of life to their elderly loved ones post-retirement and into old age. As our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles begin to require more help in their day to day routines, we are faced with the dilemma of how to provide the continual care they need. Seniors may want to cling to what they perceive as their biggest sign of independence, staying in their own home, and we may try to do our best to acquiesce, but often the preconceptions seniors have about leaving their homes for assisted living communities are not based in reality. What many of our elderly family members don’t realize is that when it comes to quality of life, overall wellness, and social fulfillment, assisted living can be superior to living at home. Unlike in a family home, a residential community offers 24-hour access to personal care, nutrition and wellness services designed especially for aging adults, and plenty of social activities with their peers in a secure and supportive environment.

In many cultures, the elders in the community are revered as wise and as leaders, the ones you seek out when you have a problem and need guidance. The way in which we regard the elderly in American society could benefit from a change in perspective that honors the valuable life experience they have to offer in the same way that other cultures do. There is so much our aging relatives can teach us—about life, love and family—if we will only take the time to ask.

One of the best, yet least known, ways to boost seniors’ physical health and mental wellness is having a pet. Studies document the many benefits from providing physical exercise to daily companionship and promoting emotional health. Pets, dogs especially, can be taken for daily walks which allow for interaction with the outside world, sunlight and fresh air. As long as seniors choose a breed and size of dog that fits their physical capabilities, a dog can be the perfect reason to get up and active and the ideal walking partner all in one.

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