World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2024: Prioritizing Dignity, Safety, and Wellbeing for Older Survivors of All Identities

Abstract multi-color shapesWorld Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) is observed annually on June 15. This year, in preparation for WEAAD, the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL) team is reflecting on how the growing diversity of the older adult population impacts our work with older adults and survivors of abuse in later life[1] and elder abuse[2].

We invite you to read on to learn more about how the changing demographics in the U.S. will demand that individuals, organizations, communities, and systems across the country ramp up efforts to prioritize working together to address abuse in later life and ensure that every individual ages with dignity, safety, and quality of life.

Aging in America

“All of us are aging each day. It’s a universal experience from the time we are born. Aging is not decline. Aging is multi-faceted and multi-directional.” These words, by Dr. Tracey Gendron, who serves as Chair for the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Gerontology, as Director for the Virginia Center on Aging, are a poignant reminder. Aging is an experience shared by every being inhabiting our planet, yet how we age is shaped by many factors. Some of these factors include our physical and social environments such as our homes, neighborhoods, and communities. Are these environments safe and supportive? Do they offer equitable access to fresh food, clean drinking water, community services, employment opportunities, and transportation options? How might these variables play a part in how we age?

Other personal characteristics impact the aging process, like one’s sex, ethnicity, genetics, and socioeconomic status, in addition to lifestyle choices surrounding diet, exercise, and substance use. It’s also essential to consider the role of chronic stress and cumulative trauma experienced by individuals from marginalized communities. Discrimination and racism weather the bodies of Black, Indigenous and People of Color, leading to cellular damage and accelerated aging.[3]

By now, you’ve likely heard that the U.S. population is rapidly aging. The year 2024 marks the beginning of the Peak 65® Zone[4], the largest surge of older Americans turning 65 in our nation’s history. Approximately 4.1 million Americans are poised to turn 65 this year and every year through 2027. This means from 2024-2027, nearly 11,200 adults will celebrate their 65th birthday each day.[5] By 2034, older adults will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history[6] and by 2060, nearly one quarter of the U.S. population is predicted to be aged 65 years or older.[7]

As our country ages, the older population is also becoming more racially and ethnically diverse.[8] U.S. population estimates predict that by 2040, the population of older adults from racial or ethnic minorities will increase by 105% (compared to a 26% increase of older white (not Hispanic) adults) and that older adults from racial or ethnic minorities will account for 34% of all older adults in the US.[9] Ethnic health disparities are also expected to play a greater role in shaping the overall health of the U.S. older population.[10]  Further, projections show that there will be more older adults from traditionally marginalized communities such as individuals who are LGBTQIA+ or disabled.

As America ages, the rates of abuse in later life will undoubtedly increase. These demographic trends reinforce an urgent and critical need to prioritize measures that ensure the dignity, safety, and quality of life of all older adults and make certain that services are accessible to older survivors of all identities.

Understanding Identity and Putting Intersectionality into Practice

​When working with older survivors, it is limiting to assume age is their most salient identity – all older adults come with other identities that influence how they experience the world, connect to others, and create a sense of self. These identities also influence how others perceive them. Identity is often discussed in terms of social categories such as age, gender, class, nationality, race, education, physical attributes and abilities, and socio-economic status. We all have multiple identities; they are fluid and may change over time.

Each person’s background, culture, and identity are the context in which their life occurs – for those experiencing abuse in later life and elder abuse, it’s also the context of their abuse and their safety and healing. Intersectionality, a term coined in 1989 by Black feminist legal scholar and law professor Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, refers to the interconnected nature of our identities, which create overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. Intersectionality provides a framework that illuminates not only that multiple identities exist together but, importantly, how the oppressions experienced by multiple identities compound and reinforce one another. This framework is a critical piece of the puzzle in getting to the solutions that work for survivors based on their lived experience.

An older survivor’s intersecting identities are paramount to their perceptions of abuse and help seeking behaviors. Those who have experienced harassment, discrimination, and stigma may be less inclined to seek support from mainstream services and shape their perception of what they need to stay safe and heal from the abuse. Consider, for example, an older survivor who is Black, transgender, poor, and uses a wheelchair. How do each of those identities affect their ability to reach out for services? How have they impacted their life, not only today, but historically as well? How will you, as a professional who works with older adults, respond in a way that respects and builds a trusting working relationship with this survivor?​ Acknowledging an older adult’s background, identity, and culture is an important first step in operationalizing intersectionality.

Understanding the impact of ageism[11], ableism[12], racism[13] and other forms of oppressions that devalue individuals and groups based on their identity is critical, too. These prejudices and biases create conditions that put older adults from marginalized communities at particular risk for abuse in later life and create barriers for them to report their abuse or access services. To ensure that all older survivors experience accessible, culturally responsive, trauma-informed, and victim-centered services and resources, we all must acknowledge and confront the biases inherent in our systems, in our institutions, and in ourselves.

Uncovering your personal biases (we all have them) is an important first step; it reduces the likelihood they will impact your work with older victims. Applying an intersectional lens cannot occur in a meaningful way without significant personal reflection to develop understanding of one’s own identity and how that impacts their understanding of themselves and those they intend to serve.​

Committing to continually question where the power lies based on someone’s identity and background will help us to understand why some individuals have greater access to support and resources that reduce their risk for abuse or increase their risk at finding support services that meet their specific needs.  ​

How Prepared Are You to Welcome and Support Diverse Survivors in Your Community?

On this WEAAD, we invite you to join NCALL in developing a personal understanding of intersectionality and deepening your awareness of systemic oppressions that harm older survivors and impede healing and justice. We offer these reflection questions as a jumping off point. Use them to uncover potential biases and to begin to understand areas of personal growth related to using an intersectional lens when working with older adults.​

  • What areas of my life and work do I hold power based on my identity? What areas do I experience disadvantage?​
  • What personal values, beliefs, and interests do I have?​
  • What are my perceptions when it comes to aging? ​
  • What are my perceptions of people or groups from various backgrounds and identities?​
  • How do I listen to people from backgrounds that differ from my own? Do I believe their experience?

To further your exploration and learning, our team has assembled a WEAAD syllabus with several resources for your consideration. While they don’t all explicitly address abuse in later life, they offer opportunities to learn about some common systemic barriers faced by older survivors of abuse as well as hear from the voices and perspectives of those most marginalized. Our intent is to share with you our journey to learn and unlearn so that we may become better attuned to the needs of a growing and increasingly diverse older adult population.

Please share with us what other resources you have used to educate yourself and improve your capacity as a professional who works with older adults.

Thanks for all you do on behalf of older adults!

Written by Sara Mayer, Assistant Director of NCALL

[1] NCALL defines abuse in later life as the willful abuse, neglect, abandonment, or financial exploitation of an older adult who is age 50+ by someone in an ongoing, trust-based relationship (i.e., spouse, partner, family member, or caregiver) with the victim. NCALL also considers sexual abuse and stalking of an older adult by anyone (including strangers) to be abuse in later life. This definition of abuse in later life does not include other types of abuse committed by strangers, or self-neglect. With these considerations in mind, NCALL’s definition of abuse in later life intentionally calls attention to the nexus between domestic violence, sexual assault, and elder abuse.

[2] While definitions of elder abuse vary, The Elder Justice Roadmap created by the field and for the field funded by the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services defines elder abuse as “abuse, neglect, abandonment, or financial exploitation of an older individual by another person or entity who has a trust-based relationship with the older adult or, any harm that occurs because an older person is targeted by a stranger based on their age or disability.” The Elder Justice Roadmap: A Stakeholder Initiative to Respond to an Emerging Health, Justice, Financial and Social Crisis

[3] Weathering is a concept introduced by  Arline Geronimus, ScD, Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan. She asserts that the health of African Americans and other culturally oppressed or economically exploited populations is subject to early health deterioration as a consequence of social exclusion.


[5] Ibid.


[7] W. He, D. Goodkind, and P. Kowal, “An Aging World: 2015,” International Population Reports, P95/16-1, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, 2016.




[11] Ageism or age-based discrimination creates a culture that ignores and tolerates abuse in later life and allows abuse of older adults to continue unabated. Age-based ideals regarding how an abuse victim should look and behave can shape the response to a victim disclosing abuse. Too often older adults are not believed when they report abuse because of ageist assumptions about dementia, and/or misconceptions about the dynamics of interpersonal violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

[12] Ableism, the discrimination, and social prejudice against people with disabilities or who are perceived to be disabled, creates barriers for older victims. For example, service providers may wrongly assume an older victim who is Deaf or hard of hearing or has mobility issues is incompetent or helpless and treat them accordingly. Or, they may lack training on accessibility practices such as interpreter services or ensuring physical access. Lack of accessible services impedes older adults with disabilities ability to receive the services they need.

[13] Racism is a system of oppression and/or advantages based on race. In American society, racism is rooted in a white supremacy system (that is, the belief that white people are superior to people of other races). Structural racism/Systemic racism refers to the normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics which routinely give advantage to white people while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. throughout American society, the impact of structural racism in education, employment, housing, health, politics, and within social systems like the criminal justice system have resulted in social disparities and inequities that have persisted across generations in the lives of older African Americans and within the African American community. Source:


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