RIVERSIDE COUNTY— As seniors experience what doctors and advocates call an epidemic of loneliness and isolation during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) encourages the public to check in with aging neighbors and loved ones.

Social worker Dianet Penilla with Adult Protective Services (APS) works with seniors who are self-isolating in their homes and is seeing their struggles up close.

“We’re getting cases where seniors are depressed, don’t have enough food or have been the victims of various scams,” Penilla said. “I encourage them to seek personal connections and mental health services. It’s part of a collaboration with county partners to make sure all our clients know the resources available to help them in this tough time.”

June is National Elder Abuse Awareness Month, a time to spotlight the issues confronting today’s fast-growing aging population. Nearly one in five Riverside County residents is at least 60 years old. Its senior population 65 and over is expected to nearly double to 548,000 over the next 10 years. Among them, nearly one in five seniors is living in isolation.

Dr. Wael Hamade, geriatric medicine division chair at Riverside University Health System—Medical Center says there is mounting evidence that loneliness is linked to physical, emotional and mental health issues.

“At this time, anyone can feel lonely or isolated. But older adults are at a much higher risk because they have multiple risk factors, such as chronic illness, sensory impairment or hearing loss. They also have a much higher likelihood of living alone. Older women may face an even higher risk. Older people with depression and anxiety are more likely to be social isolated and lonely than their peers,” Hamade said.

A phone call from a neighbor or loved one, video conference chat or a box of food with a kind note can lift a person’s spirits and change the course of their day. It can also help prevent elder abuse, which can take many forms, including physical, sexual, financial or emotional.

The most common forms of elder abuse in Riverside County are financial exploitation, neglect, self-neglect and verbal and mental abuse. One in 10 older Americans over age 60 will experience some type of abuse. Warning signs include, but are not limited to:

  • A senior expressing fear of family or caregivers
  • Unexpected or unusual bruising
  • Profound confusion and/or recent poor hygiene habits
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Unusual financial transactions, or changes in spending habits
  • Unusual isolation, or the senior not being seen for several days

“The warning signs are hard to spot if a vulnerable senior has no one checking in,” said Deputy Director Ryan Uhlenkott with the Adult Services Division. “Some seniors will reach-out and ask for help. Others are reluctant to report abuse and it’s why we need the community’s help to get vulnerable adults the assistance they need.”

Uhlenkott added that APS social workers continue to respond in-person to every report of elder abuse alleging imminent danger and are keeping in touch with our most vulnerable neighbors to connect them with vital resources. If you suspect adult abuse or neglect in Riverside County, please call the 24-hour Adult Protective Services Hotline at 1-800-491-7123.

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