What do buckets of sand, outreach and community-building all have in common?

They are all ways to prevent elder abuse.

We know that isolated older adults are at a higher risk for experiencing elder abuse. Especially in rural Maine, it’s easy for older adults to become isolated in retirement, as many of their loved ones have left Maine or passed away.

Increasing community connectedness can help decrease this isolation, and law enforcement officers can help provide a crucial connection to the broader community. We not only respond to elder abuse, we can also help prevent it.

One sheriff in Maine knew he could help older adults during the long Maine winters by delivering buckets of sand, which would help make icy steps safer. The sand was a great way to keep people safe, and it was also the perfect way for him to make sure older adults had what they needed and ensure they were connected to their community. Law enforcement officers all over Maine have developed ways of respectfully checking in on older adults.

Law enforcement officers are in a unique position to help address elder abuse. We provide community outreach and safety, and we can help create connections to support when it is most needed. Several law enforcement officers sit on the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention, where we are developing resources for law enforcement responding to elder abuse.

This includes a RADAR (Recognize signs of abuse; ask questions in private; document your findings; assure access to safety; report/refer) card that lists important steps for law enforcement to take when they suspect someone is a victim of elder abuse. This card will be accompanied by training for law enforcement to help better connect older adults with much needed resources, such as Adult Protective Services, Legal Services for the Elderly, Maine Office of Securities, Maine Area Agencies on Aging, and domestic and sexual violence advocates.

Law enforcement officers can be a link between older adults and community resources, as can an older adult’s neighbors, family, friends and other members of the community.

Elder abuse is truly an issue that requires Mainers to work together to solve it. Especially as Maine’s population grows older, we all know an older Mainer who could experience elder abuse. It’s up to all of us to make sure Mainers age with the dignity and respect they deserve. By building community connectedness among older adults, we can all help prevent elder abuse in our communities.

Joel Merry is sheriff of Sagadahoc County. He may be reached at jmerry@sagsheriff.com. He sits on the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention. Patrick Hood is a sergeant with Maine State Police Troop D. He may be reached at patrick.w.hood@maine.gov. He sits on the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention.