Elder abuse is a silent epidemic in our culture. Approximately one in ten Americans aged 60 and older have experienced some form of elder abuse. One study estimates that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities.
What is elder abuse? We posed this question to Carol Armstrong, Ph.D., a licensed professional counselor and life care coordinator for Donna J. Jackson and Associates, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Oklahoma City.
As Carol sees it, elder abuse occurs anytime a person takes advantage of the disabilities of an elder. There are as many ways to take advantage of elders as there are perpetrators. Some forms of elder abuse are subtle. Others are more blatant. Anyone can commit elder abuse, from loved ones to caregivers to other residents in a nursing home. Elder abuse takes many forms, including physical injuries, financial exploitation, and even sexual battery.
Much of the abuse these days involves money, with new financial scams popping up every day. One of the latest involves unclaimed funds. According to a 2017 article for Pew Trusts, these scams often target seniors. “We’re seeing a lot of this in Oklahoma,” Carol admits. “Scammers promise to get unclaimed funds, taking 50% as a finder’s fee. In the end, the elders lose their money and are often victims of identity theft.”
Another common type of elder abuse involves employees of in-home care companies taking advantage of the people they’re paid to assist. “These professional caregivers are in the elders’ homes every day,” explains Carol. “It’s only natural for them to develop close relationships with the people who come to help them. When the caregiver is less than scrupulous, there’s no limit to the damage potential.”
What can happen? The caregiver can steal money or things. The caregiver can convince the older person to change important legal documents such as powers of attorney, wills, trusts, and beneficiary designations that give the caregiver access to the elder’s money or allow that person to make financial decisions on behalf of the elder. In some cases, caregivers have even stopped giving elders their medications in order to make it easier to control the person.”
What can you do to help a loved one avoid this kind of elder abuse? Plan, Carol advises. “People tend to put off thinking about things related to the end of life,” she says. “Many people think that planning means losing control, but the ultimate loss of control typically happens when a person doesn’t plan.”
One of the most powerful planning tools involves establishing a trust for the older adult, with the person’s finances managed by an independent third party. Life Care Planning Law Firms are often the architects of these strategies to keep seniors safe. “This approach keeps others from being able to access the older person’s money,” notes Carol. “The third party pays the elder’s bills and monitors all financial transactions. This can give family members great peace of mind, especially if the older adult is still living independently at home.”
If financial abuse has already occurred, Life Care Planning Law Firms are often called to help families coordinate damage control. “It’s important to get the situation cleaned up and then set up a monitoring program to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Carol adds. “Elder abuse happens when no one is looking. Ongoing monitoring can help keep everyone safe.”