Elder Abuse is a “Public Health Crisis”

Q. Not long ago, my mother, who is in her 80s, was the victim of financial exploitation by an in-home health aide. It started with trips to the grocery store and small loans. Before long, the caregiver was regularly taking my mother and her credit card to the mall to purchase clothes and other items — not for my mother.

Eventually, a clerk noticed what was going on and alerted security and our family. By then, however, my mother was out hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars. No charges were filed, but the caregiver was dismissed.

I wish I had recognized my mother was being abused financially, so I could have stopped it sooner. Do you know of any warning signs, so I know for next time? (Hopefully, there won’t be a next time!) Also, what is being done by our government to curb elder abuse, since it has become such a serious issue, and what can I do to help my own family and other seniors in similar situations?

A. Last week (June 15) marked the 10th anniversary of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. In Washington, D.C., the occasion included a Presidential Proclamation, a special White House Conference on Aging event on elder justice, and a first-time Global Summit on elder abuse. The day brought attention to a rapidly growing national and international problem — abuse, neglect, and exploitation of older adults.

 

In the United States, the Department of Justice estimates that one in 10 people over age 60 is a victim of elder abuse. This translates into nearly 6 million cases a year. Abuse takes various forms, with neglect and financial exploitation rising fastest. Studies indicate that victims of financial fraud lose an estimated $3 billion a year. (And one recent report suggests the figure might be at least 10 times that amount.)

 

Initiatives Discussed at the Global Summit
At the Global Summit, speakers addressed initiatives taken by the Obama Administration related to elder justice, including work that began with the 2010 passage of the landmark Elder Justice Act as part of the Affordable Care Act.

 

Here’s an overview of initiatives discussed:
  • An Office of Elder Justice and Adult Protective Services has been established in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, meaning the front line in fighting elder abuse has its first-time federal home.
  • The U.S. Justice Department last year released its Elder Justice Roadmap Project designed to focus attention on elder abuse prevention with recommendations for future action around brain health, among other topics.
  • Under the Dodd-Frank Act, an Office of Older Americans was established in the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and it has spearheaded important educational and awareness-raising work to protect older adults from financial abuse.
  • Last year, the Administration for Community Living created the first federal home for Adult Protective Services (APS), where it’s developing a national adult protective services data system to capture and analyze reports of abuse.
  • The Department of Justice now has a useful Elder Justice website — what McEvoy calls a “one-stop shopping site for victims, families, prosecutors, researchers and practitioners.” Here, you can report elder abuse and find your local Adult Protective Services and Area Agency on Aging.
  • The Department of Justice has also created training modules to help attorneys recognize and address financial exploitation of older Americans. And it now has a pocket guide for police, explaining the legal issues of elder abuse.
  • One of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)’s priorities is to give financial service professionals more effective tools to protect clients whenever an adviser or registered representative suspects financial or other abuse of a vulnerable client.
  • The 2015 White House Conference on Aging, which will be held on July 13, has made elder justice one of its four priorities. Some further administration initiatives around elder justice are expected to be announced at the conference.
How do you Know if a Loved One is a Victim of Elder Abuse?

The first step in preventing elder abuse of a loved one is recognizing it. Keep in mind that any time a senior is not being treated correctly constitutes elder abuse. And elder abuse is not just physical–other categories include sexual, psychological, and financial abuse, and abandonment and neglect. Pay attention to the elderly people you know. Be on the lookout for some of these common signs that abuse may be happening:

  • Frequent arguments between caregivers and the patient, whether they are professional caregivers or family members
  • Changes in a senior’s personality or behavior
  • Unexplained injuries such as burns, bruises, welts, cuts or scars
  • Broken bones, dislocations and sprains
  • Failure to take medication or overdose of medication
  • A caregiver’s refusal to let you see the patient alone
  • Appearing disheveled, in torn or soiled clothes or not appropriately dressed for the weather
  • Appearing hungry, malnourished, disoriented, or confused
  • Unexplained charges or a suspicious drain of money beyond daily living expenses
  • Unexplained weight loss that could indicate lack of proper nutrition or neglect.
Advocate for Your Loved Ones
Elder abuse and neglect “is a public health crisis that crosses all socioeconomic lines and is an affront to human rights around the world,” said President Obama in his proclamation. As people age, they become more physically frail and less able to stand up to bullying. Waning sight, memory and hearing can allow seniors to be easily taken advantage of. Therefore, it’s important to be an advocate for the elderly people you’re close with.  
The Administration on Aging says if you suspect that someone is in immediate danger of being an elder abuse victim, call 911 or contact your local adult protective services agency, which can be found through the National Center on Elder Abuse website or by calling 800-677-1116. Also, check out the resources on the Administration on Aging’s National Center on Elder Abuse Website
“We must take a stand to ensure that older Americans are safe from harm and neglect,” said Associate Attorney General Tony West in a statement. “For their contributions to our nation, to our society, and to our lives, we owe them nothing less.”
Lastly, if you suspect that a loved one has been abused or neglected by a long-term care facility such as a nursing home, you should contact an attorney who can evaluate whether or not a civil litigation action can be brought against the facility.  One client of ours recently received a $100,000 settlement because his hip was broken because of the negligence of nursing home staff while moving him.
Planning is Another Way to Protect Loved Ones
Another way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to plan for long-term care, to ensure appropriate care is within reach, when needed, and that your family can afford the disastrously high cost of a nursing home without going broke. 
Medicaid planning can be started while you are still able to make legal and financial decisions, or can be initiated by an adult child acting as agent under a properly-drafted Power of Attorney, even if you are already in a nursing home or receiving other long-term care.  In fact, the majority of our Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection clients come to us when nursing home care is already in place or is imminent.
It’s never too late to begin the process of  Long-term Care Planning, also called Lifecare Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection Planning.

Planning for long-term care will not eliminate the risk of needing it, but it enables you to sort options and make smarter decisions ahead of time. As a result, you’ll have the peace of mind that no matter what happens, you will know what to do as a family. If you or your parents have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your documents reviewed in the past several years), please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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