EAIME: Standing Up for Maine's Vulnerable Elders

October 27, 2020

Seldom discussed but altogether too common, elder abuse has been experienced by 10 percent of people over 60 who live at home. In our home state, where more than 33,000 people are victims each year, Elder Abuse Institute of Maine is working hard to change this.

Formed in 1995 and based in Brunswick, EAIME set out to open more eyes to this problem and help prevent it with free services, training, outreach, and advocacy. To date, their support has bolstered more than 350 seniors. Martha’s Cottage, their signature program, gives senior women find refuge from violence with a safe place to live for up to two years ­— along with the support they need to reestablish themselves.

Violence, however, is just one form of elder abuse. Emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and financial exploitation are others, with financial abuse most common.

A “silent public health crisis”

None of it is easy to tackle. “It is a challenge to get people to embrace this silent public health crisis,” says Patricia Kimball, EAIME Executive Director and a contributor to the nonprofit since 2000. “It’s hard to look at, address, and reconcile.”

“Support from Martin's Point helps us open the door and can help us reach an important group of professionals who interact with older Mainers who may be at risk,” says Kimball.

Partnerships like this also provide critical financial support. “We rely on local, state and federal grants and individual and business donations to fund 100% of our operations,” explains Kimball. “Private dollars like the ones from Martin's Point are the most valuable dollars a nonprofit can receive.”

Who’s at risk?

Elders who are socially isolated — without formal or informal support networks — are most likely to become victims. In the majority of cases, family members are the ones committing the abuse, further complicating an already difficult problem.

“It’s hard to stop for many reasons, some are obvious, others not so obvious,” says Kimball, whose dedication to this work is in part inspired by cherished relationships with her grandparents.

Abuse can stay hidden within families. When outsiders find out, they may be reluctant to get involved. Elders are often reluctant to sound the alarm, either because shame, lack of certainty, and fear of the consequences like retaliation, becoming more isolated, or having to move. They find all sorts of ways to justify the situation, telling themselves “I’m hard to care for” or “he is under a lot of stress.”

“Elders often put their own needs on the back burner,” says Kimball. And COVID-19 is only making these situations worse by increasing isolation, financial stress, and general anxiety.

“Reports to Adult Protective Services are down, which means people are not reporting as often. But we know incidence of abuse is not down, it’s just not being seen.”

Know the signs

Recognition is one of the most important tools for identifying and ending abuse. EAIME outlines these questions for anyone who is concerned a friend, relative, or neighbor might be in trouble:

  • Has their financial situation changed?
  • Have they stopped attending meetings, church, or other gatherings? Or stopped seeing visitors?
  • Are they depressed or withdrawn?
  • Are they nervous or quiet around a family member or caregiver?
  • Do they conceal or give excuses for bruising?

If you answer yes to one or more, call one of these resources for guidance:

Elder Abuse Institute of Maine: 800-269-3431

Maine Adult Protective Service Hotline: 800-624-8404
New Hampshire Adult Protection Reporting: 800-949-0470

What can be done?

Addressing social isolation by keeping senior engaged in their communities and recognizing them as valuable contributors is one important key.

Reframing how we think about aging is another big piece. “Our collective feelings about aging, and the way we think about and talk about aging and older people keeps abuse in the shadows,” says Kimball. “The Elder Institute promotes thinking about abuse from the perspective of justice. People of all ages have the right to a peaceful life.”

Simply talking about this challenging issue helps by raising awareness and understanding. As Kimball says, “We need to bring elder abuse out of the shadows.”