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Protecting Our Elders: Now More Than Ever

November 17, 2020


This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many issues related to older adults to the forefront of media coverage, and more importantly, to our dinner table conversations. As we all acknowledge the debt we owe to older adults -- those who have raised us, taught us, and modeled ethical living for us -- we also recognize their vulnerability during this difficult time. 

This year, The Sephardic Foundation on Aging was transitioned from a non-profit nursing home serving older adults who immigrated from Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans to a private grantmaking foundation. Our mission is to foster innovation and collaboration in the field of aging so that older people can get the support and resources that they need to flourish and live out their lives with the dignity and care that they deserve.

An issue especially close to our hearts is preventing and responding to elder abuse. We built The Sephardic Home for the Aged because so many older adults in our community felt isolated and alone with no one to tend to their physical and emotional needs. As Ladino speakers, many of them were unable to communicate with their caregivers, and the comfort of familiar foods, music and cultural celebrations was absent from their lives. 

Because we are so familiar with the depression and attendant physical ills that can accompany isolation, we were especially encouraged to learn about Sacred Spaces’ efforts to combat elder abuse and neglect. Our hearts break when we think about elders who have been advised to isolate, remain indoors, and stop accepting visitors. We know that such restrictions, while protecting our beloved elders from illness, also increase the risks of abuse both at home and in institutional settings.

We are proud to have partnered with Sacred Spaces on their new COVID-19 & elder abuse resources: one for community organizations, one for long-term care and medical facilities, and one for family members and caretakers. Each group can uniquely support, protect, and contribute to the prevention of elder abuse.

Community organizations (JCCs and synagogues) are trusted and critical resources for elders. They are well-positioned to decrease the prevalence of elder abuse by demonstrating a commitment to its prevention and serving as a point of connection for elders.

Jewish long-term care facilities and hospitals are sought by elders and their families as trusted extensions of the Jewish community. The most basic responsibility is to protect and safeguard the residents and patients in their care from abuse.

Family members and caretakers are at the forefront of identifying and mitigating risks of elder abuse by developing a deeper understanding of the issue, reducing a loved ones’ isolation, and monitoring their own stress level.

Quickly and collectively, we have changed our daily lives to protect each other from exposure to a potentially deadly virus. As we remain vigilant, we must also understand how acts of protection in one area of public health can lead to an increase of risk in another, specifically the abuse, neglect, and maltreatment of older adults. For the elders in our communities, mitigating the risks inherent in social isolation is as important as mitigating the impact of COVID-19.

Download this and other resources from Sacred Spaces here

Joshua Hoffman is the Executive Director of The Sephardic Foundation on Aging, working to empower all older people to live happier, healthier lives. Previously, he was the Chief Financial & Operating Officer at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation.