We have all been in a situation when we’re vulnerable and weak, leaning on others for help—but what if you couldn’t trust the person helping you? What if the person who was supposed to lift you up held you down instead? What if they used your circumstances to take advantage of you, to a point where you no longer had any control over your choices, your finances, and your own life? It sounds like a horror movie, but according to the National Council on Aging, it happens to almost 5 million Americans that are age 60 or older every year. It’s called elder abuse.
As people get older, they may have physical or mental ailments that prevent them from taking care of themselves as well as they used to. In those cases, a caregiver steps in to help. Sometimes a caregiver is a relative, and other times a caregiver may be from a long-term care facility or court-appointed. The mental and physical state that the elder is in makes them easy for unscrupulous caregivers to take advantage of.
Elder abuse can take a lot of different forms, for example:
- Emotional Abuse - Intimidation through yelling, threatening them with harm, humiliating and embarrassing them, and isolating them from friends or family.
- Physical Abuse - Inflicting physical pain on an elder through violence, restraint, or other methods.
- Neglect - Failure to properly take care of an elder by not providing proper nutrition, social interactions, medicine, or attention.
- Financial Exploitation - Misusing an elders funds by purchasing items they don’t need, forging their signature, or engaging in identity theft.
- Healthcare Fraud - Not providing healthcare but charging for it, over-charging for health-related costs, or Medicaid fraud.
Because financial exploitation isn’t easy to physically see, it is often overlooked. Unfortunately it’s a very common form of abuse that can cause just as much harm to the elder. For example, some elders may be assigned a conservatorship. That means that a judge appoints someone to manage the affairs of the elder, including personal and financial decisions. A conservator can choose when and how an elder spends their money, which makes the elder vulnerable to exploitation. A conservator could sign the elder up for services they do not need, they could put their friends on the elder’s payroll, or they could increase their own hours of work for the elder in order to increase their own pay. In these situations, a conservator could quickly bleed an elder’s account dry.
Sometimes a conservator is a family member, but other times it could be a lawyer or other legal guardian. If your loved one is receiving extra care, it’s important to review any and all legal documents with someone you trust before you sign them. Without a proper review, you could unintentionally sign away an elder’s rights to someone who does not have their financial best interest in mind.
There are several things you should look out for if you think someone is suffering from elder abuse:
- Unexplained bruises or sprains
- If you are not allowed to spend time with the elder alone
- Belittling or controlling caregiver behavior
- Unusual weight loss or untreated ailments
- Unsanitary or unsafe living conditions
- Significant withdrawals from their account
- Sudden changes in their financial condition
- Suspicious changes in wills, power of attorney, titles, and policies
The elder population in the United States is growing much faster than the youth population, which means many elderly people are at risk of suffering from elder abuse. Make sure you know the signs so that you can protect your loved ones.