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Calling Attention to End Elder Abuse in American Indian and Alaska Native Communities

by Nicole Stahlmann, MN, RN, SANE-A, AFN-BC, SANE-P, FNE-A/P, Forensic Nurse Consultant, Division of Nursing Services


Elders are highly respected and revered in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. It is well known they possess volumes of wisdom, knowledge, and carry honorable strengths of spirituality. Respecting our elders and honoring stories, culture, and language can help protect against elder abuse, mistreatment, and financial exploitation.

As a population that carries so much light and has carved depths of foundational strengths, it is difficult to share that a disturbing number of Native American elders are victims of abuse and neglect. As many as one in three Native elders report experiencing emotional, physical, and sexual maltreatment in the past year or neglect or financial abuse by a family member — almost double the number reported for the general population. Factors contributing to the problem are loss of a traditional lifestyle, dementia, poor economic conditions, mental health or substance use, and social isolation. Experiences of historical trauma, shame, and fear can impact an elder’s decision to seek help.

On June 15, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, the Indian Health Service joins its federal partners and organizations worldwide in calling attention to the under-recognized and under-reported problem of elder abuse. This day is an opportunity for all communities to learn and raise awareness about elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation and find ways they can make a difference in the lives of elders. 

The IHS is helping do our part to end elder abuse. Some examples of programs and resources include:

  • Training to become a sexual assault examiner/forensic examiner.
  • Two new Forensic Health Care Guidebooks, including information on caring for elders.
  • Training, information, and resources on Alzheimer’s and dementia.
  • A new Notice of Funding Opportunity for dementia models of care grants that require services and supports for caregivers.

Let’s honor our gich-aya’aag (Ojibwe for elders/great beings) by raising awareness and bringing an end to elder abuse!

***If you have been a victim or suspect elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation, call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 to be connected to local help. If someone is in immediate danger, call 911 or the local police for immediate help.

Helpful Resources:

Are you or someone you know interested in becoming trained as a sexual assault examiner/forensic examiner? Through the Forensic Nursing Consultant Program contract, Texas A&M University Center of Excellence in Forensic Nursing is offering forensic health care related training and courses for our IHS, tribal, and urban Indian organization providers (courses such as forensic examiner training, clinical skills labs, and more – CEs/CMEs are available.) Visit their website to register for courses.

Nicole Stahlmann, MN, RN, SANE-A, AFN-BC, SANE-P, FNE-A/P, Forensic Nurse Consultant, Division of Nursing Services
Stahlmann, MN, RN, SANE-A, AFN-BC, SANE-P, FNE-A/P, serves as the forensic nurse consultant with the IHS Division of Nursing Services. Prior to her work with IHS, she served as a forensic nursing specialist with the International Association of Forensic Nurses and was the clinical program manager for the District of Columbia Forensic Nurse Examiners. Stahlmann was an emergency department nurse and adjunct instructor, teaching both undergraduate and master prepared students at Georgetown University. She continues to practice clinically, providing care for patients who have experienced violence.