As the president and CEO of Osceola County’s largest social services organization, the Osceola Council on Aging, our team is continually focused on how to best serve Osceola’s senior population.

Though with the recent concerns related to COVID-19, specifically, the virus’s negative implications on our elder population, I felt it extremely important to highlight the council’s many healthcare related initiatives for this month’s guest column.

In addition, since the month of May is also celebrated as “Older Americans Month,” the timing was perfect to discuss the mission behind this celebration which serves to raise awareness of the contributions older Americans have made to enrich the lives of younger generations.

According to the Administration for Community Living (ACL) Older Americans Month was established in 1963, when only 17-million Americans had reached their 65th birthday. At that time, unfortunately, about a third of older Americans lived in poverty with only a few national programs in place to support their needs. A meeting in April 1963 between President John F. Kennedy and members of the National Council of Senior Citizens led to designating the month of May as Senior Citizens Month; subsequently, 13 years later, President Gerald Ford proclaimed May as Older Americans Month.

Since that time, it is wonderful that every United States president has issued a formal proclamation during May asking the entire nation to pay tribute to the elder generations of their communities. This year’s theme, “Make Your Mark,” was selected to encourage and celebrate the differences everyone can make in the lives of older adults. Though it is important to note, this month was not only established to celebrate our seniors, but also a step in protecting them.

Unfortunately, as our senior population ages, their risk of neglect can increase. Why? According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), most neglect and abuse happens in settings such as private homes and institutional environments such as nursing homes and longterm care facilities. The cause? Though the answer is not simple, most statistics attribute it to caregivers being under excess stress due to chronic fatigue, with an overwhelming amount of daily responsibilities due to understaffing.

Additional issues can include societal, cultural, and familial influences, which can also make a difference in the care elderly residents receive.

Although, there is no nationwide tracking system for elder abuse, the NCEA estimates somewhere between 1 and 2 million Americans over the age of 65 have been neglected by a loved one or caregiver. The frequency has been estimated to range anywhere from two to ten percent based on a variety of surveys and sampling methods.

Unfortunately, these statistics are entirely too high and why the council offers a myriad of services to support caregivers and their families. Our services include the Adult Day Health Center, In-Home Health Services, Transportation, Weatherization, Home Repair & Chore, Rent/ Mortgage Assistance, Utility Assistance, Guardianship, Low Income Housing, and the Nutrition Assistance programs like Meals on Wheels and the Dining Club.

These services not only support families but also their caregivers, while helping to mitigate elder abuse, as the services themselves function as an intervention by providing much needed respite to over-stressed family members and caregivers. Moreover, the council’s case managers, program staff and volunteers receive training teaching them how to identify and report neglect/ abuse amongst the elderly.

In summary, the council’s Elder Care programs are designed to empower the older members of our community with case managed supportive services allowing them to live independent lives for as long as possible.

As many of my friends and colleagues who have aging parents, we are cognizant in wanting to make sure they are supported.

Personally, both of my parents have seen both good and bad days with their health. Luckily, as many large Italian families do, we live close to each other and are constantly checking that all is OK.

However, not all families have the luxury that our family does, and why it is important to have community support programs like those provided by the council.

So, not only this month, but every month, let’s remember to honor our older Americans, while celebrating their contributions.

Our seniors have devoted their lives to raising us so now it is time to give back. Support them as much as possible, and most importantly, keep them safe from harm. We love and appreciate our ‘Older Americans’ for their many contributions to our lives, our communities and our nation.

Thus, the importance of learning to identify and report elder abuse and neglect among our elder citizens.