Aging is a natural process – abuse is not.
In this month's newsletters we discuss the issue of Elder Abuse. Here, I'd like to expand on the topic and, in this post, offer a list of warning signs that may indicate Elder Abuse.
There are plenty of people out there ready and willing to defraud vulnerable seniors – trust mills, annuity scams, identity theft, sweepstakes scams and the list goes on. But more shockingly, the majority of financial crimes against seniors are perpetrated by family, "friends" and caregivers.
An extreme case of alleged elder abuse involves 90-year-old actor Mickey Rooney, who shared his own experience with abuse with a Senate committee in March. Rooney testified that his own stepson intimidated him, refused him food and withheld medications. Rooney ultimately got a restraining order against his adult stepson, but many seniors are too frail or otherwise too vulnerable to do so. "If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone," Rooney said.
A veteran of more than 300 film roles, Rooney took the congressional spotlight, telling a committee investigating abuse that he had been financially exploited and "stripped of the ability to make even the most basic decisions about my life." His daily life, he said, became "unbearable."
Each year, hundreds of thousands of older persons are abused, neglected, and exploited. In addition, elders throughout the United States lose an estimated $2.6 billion or more annually due to elder financial abuse and exploitation, funds that could have been used to pay for basic needs such as housing, food, and medical care. Abuse occurs in every demographic, and can happen to anyone—a family member, a neighbor, even you. Yet it is estimated that only about one in five of those crimes are ever discovered.
The United Nations declared 2013 "The Year of Elder Abuse Awareness," and a host of federal bills are expected to at least reach committee in Congress before the legislative session closes.
Learn the warning signs and act to protect seniors. Elder abuse refers to intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or trusted individual that causes harm to a vulnerable elder.
The Administration on Aging provides the following list of Warning Signs:
- Lack of affordable amenities and comforts in an elder's home
- Giving uncharacteristically excessive gifts or financial reimbursement for needed care and companionship
- A caregiver has control of an elder's money but fails to provide for the elder's needs
- An older adult has signed property transfers (power of attorney or will, for example) but is unable to comprehend what the transaction means
- Inadequately explained fractures, bruises, welts, cuts, sores, or burns
- Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
- Lack of basic hygiene or appropriate clothing
- Lack of food
- Lack of medical aids (e.g., glasses, walker, dentures, hearing aid, or medications)
- Person with dementia left unsupervised
- Person confined in bed is left without care
- Home is cluttered, dirty, or in disrepair
- Home lacks adequate facilities (stove, refrigerator, heating and cooling, plumbing, or electricity)
- Untreated bed sores or pressure ulcers
- Unexplained or uncharacteristic changes in behavior, such as withdrawal from normal activities, or unexplained changes in alertness
- Caregiver isolates the elder (doesn't let anyone in the home or speak to the elder)
- Caregiver is verbally aggressive or demeaning, controlling, or uncaring
Elder abuse can happen to anyone and can occur anywhere—in a person's own home, in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, even in hospitals. It affects elders across all socioeconomic groups, cultures, and races. Based on available information, women, elders who are homebound or isolated, and individuals ages 80 and older are most at risk. Perhaps surprising is that the mistreatment is most often perpetrated by the individual's own family members. Common risk factors for abuse include:
- The elder is socially isolated or withdrawn
- The elder is in poor physical health
- The elder has dementia or mental health or substance abuse issues
- The perpetrator has mental health or substance abuse issues
If You Suspect Abuse—Report It.
If you suspect elder abuse, report it. Act to protect seniors by bringing suspected abuse to the attention of the appropriate authorities. To report suspected abuse, contact your local adult protective services agency. In Arkansas, call the Adult Protective Services Adult Abuse Hotline at 1-800-482-8049, or visit http://www.aradultprotection.com/.
For other state reporting numbers, call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 or visit http://www.eldercare.gov.