Wealth is Not a Barrier to Abuse and Exploitation—it’s an Invitation
Studies estimate that more than 2.5 million older people each year are injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection, with 90% of the abuse committed by a perpetrator known to the elderly victim. 1.
If you find those estimates horrifying, you’ll find reality even more chilling:
- For every 1 case of elder abuse, neglect, exploitation, or self-neglect reported to authorities, about five more go unreported. 2.
- In the year 2000, estimates put the overall reporting of financial exploitation at only 1 in 25 cases, suggesting that there may be at least 5 million financial abuse victims each year. 3. The numbers are certainly higher today.
- Data of domestic elder abuse suggests that only 1 in 14 incidents excluding (excluding self neglect) come to the attention of authorities. 4.
Elder abuse doesn’t discriminate; it crosses all socio-economic boundaries. Neglecting or denying its existence leads to unnecessary suffering, unimaginable physical and emotional pain, and in the worse-case scenarios, death.
If you work with elders or special needs clients, the chances are excellent that one or more of your clients are being abused. The abuser may be a family member or hired caregiver who exercises power and control over your physically frail or cognitively impaired client or loved one. Your loved one’s or clients’ cries for help may go unheard if they are unable to communicate effectively. They also may fear harsher abuse or abandonment by her caretaker—in other words, they may feel trapped and powerless.
Society, backed by federal and state legislation, is now paying more attention to this heinous crime. Although there is still no federal law protecting elders from abuse, all states have adopted laws specifically targeting elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation and many states have adopted clear criminal penalties for elder abuse.
If your business model has been to steer clear of involvement in domestic and healthcare issues, it’s time to reconsider:
- Most states have statutes mandating reporting of suspected abuse. “Mandated Reporters” include financial, legal, healthcare, and other professionals and advisors, as well as Caregivers.
- As a Mandated Reporter, you risk your license, your reputation, and your assets by not understanding the law and assisting clients who are in danger. If you participate in the abuse, you risk prosecution and imprisonment.
The Most Prevalent Types of Elder Abuse 5.
Elder Abuse is a broad description for any knowing, deliberate, or careless act that causes harm or serious risk of harm to an older person.
- Caregiver/Family Neglect (58.5%): Failure to keep vulnerable adults safe and provide for their physical and emotional needs.
- Physical Abuse (15.7%): Use of force to threaten or physically injure an elder
- Emotional abuse (7.3%): Use of verbal attacks, threats, rejection, isolation, demeaning acts that cause mental anguish, physical and emotional decline
- Financial Exploitation (12.3%): Theft, fraud, misuse or neglect of authority, and use of “undue influence” as a lever to gain control over an older person’s money or property.
- Sexual (0.04%): Forced, tricked, threatened, or otherwise coerced sexual contact from elders or anyone who is unable to grant consent
- Self-Neglect/Abandonment: (Included in “All Other Types" 5.2%): Abandonment: Desertion of a frail or vulnerable elder by anyone with a duty of care. Self-Neglect: an inability to understand the consequences of one’s own actions or inaction, which leads to, or may lead to, harm or endangerment.
Warning Signs for Families & Professionals
Trust your instincts. When I doubt, err on the side of caution. The signs of Elder Abuse run the gamut from the obvious to the almost invisible. If your instincts tell you something is wrong don’t wait for proof: call the victim’s family or a professional advocate to assess the situation. If your loved one or client is in immediate danger, call 911 immediately and remove the victim from the premises.
It’s important to remember that victims may be experiencing multiple types of abuse. While one sign does not necessarily indicate abuse, experience tells us which warning signs should mandate a call for help:
Warning Signs: Neglect – Self Neglect:
- Victim appears to be receiving insufficient care and attention to wants and needs given their history and financial status.
- Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are often indicators of neglect or, at the very least, an untrained, inadequate caregiver who should be immediately replaced.
- Absence of necessities including food, water, heat, medicine, clothing
- Poor grooming and appearance (soiled or ragged clothing, dirty nails and skin)
- Inadequate living environment evidenced by lack of utilities, sufficient space, and ventilation
- Animal or insect infestations; hoarding animals, hoarding papers, trash
- Signs of medication mismanagement, including empty or unmarked bottles or outdated prescriptions
- Unsafe housing as a result of disrepair, faulty wiring, inadequate sanitation, substandard cleanliness, or architectural barriers
Warning Signs: Physical/Emotional Abuse:
- Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns are cause for suspicion and investigation no matter how plausible the explanation.
- Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of physical and/or emotional abuse.
- Behavior such as belittling, yelling, threats and other uses of power and control by spouses, children, or caregivers.
- Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person may also be signs of abuse and exploitation.
- Victim appears nervous or afraid of the person accompanying him
- Victim is denied needed medical equipment and assistive devices: eyeglasses, hearing aids, dentures, commodes, walkers, wheelchair
Warning Signs: Financial Exploitation
- Victim is not allowed to speak for himself or make decisions
- Caregivers or family members who refuse to let you talk to your client or loved one unless they are present. Isolating the victim from those who care about him and can help is one of the first signs of exploitation and abuse
- Sudden changes in financial habits (increase in number of checks or amounts of withdrawals, increase if number of checks written for even amounts, increase is charge account balances or debit card usage, or changes in bequests are often the result of financial exploitation.
- Sudden increases in debt
- Sudden change in address for financial documents
- Sudden changes in banks, sudden transfers to other banks, sudden changes financial or legal advisors, beneficiaries, doctors, living arrangements, Power of Attorney, or Health Care Surrogates are often due to exploitation and abuse
- Recently opened joint accounts
- Signatures appear correct but amounts are written in different handwriting and/or different ink
- Victim appears nervous or afraid of the person accompanying him or is accompanied by an acquaintance who appears too interested in his assets
- Victim supplies questionable explanation or is confused about missing funds or money management, or is unable to remember financial transactions or sign paperwork
If you suspect elder abuse, collaboration is the key to protecting your client. When you see unexpected and unexplained changes in personality and behavior, call for professional assistance and evaluation. You do not have to prove abuse. Remaining alert may help save your loved one or client from serious emotional or physical harm and from financial ruin.
1. Gregorie Trudy, “The Special Needs of Elder Abuse Victims,” www.ccvs.state.vt.us/pub_ed/special_needs.html, and National Center on Elder Abuse, American Public Human Services Association. September 1998. The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study 1996: Final Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families and the Administration on Aging.
2. Washington, DC: National Center on Elder Abuse at American Public Human Services Association
3. (Wasik, John F. 2000. “The Fleecing of America’s Elderly,” Consumers Digest, March/April.)
4. Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation in an Aging America, 2003. Washing DC National Research Council Panel to Review Risk and Prevalence of Elder Abuse and Neglect
5. (Pillemer, Karl, and David Finkelhor. 1988. "The Prevalence of Elder Abuse: A Random Sample Survey," The Gerontologist, 28: 51-57.)
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