Our elders have contributed so much to our lives and our community; it is important to protect them and make sure that they do not become victims of abuse. Often a family member, caregiver, friend, or neighbor begins to take on the responsibility of assisting an elderly acquaintance. As we age, activities for daily living become increasingly more difficult to do on our own. It is great to have the assistance of a trusted individual. All too often though, the caretaker begins to help himself to the detriment of the elder in his care. It becomes easy to take advantage of an elder in a weakened physical or mental state.
Unfortunately, statistics show that adult children are the most common perpetrators of financial elder abuse. Some adult children feel that they have an entitlement to their parents’ assets, or due to the current financial climate they may have lost a job or run into credit problems. The elder is coerced into signing over assets and real estate. Sometimes the financial abuse is initiated by making the elder feel guilty, or by threatening to withhold affections and attention. Sometimes, actual physical abuse is inflicted on the elder. Family members should be aware and intervene if the burden of care rests on a family member or friend who appears to be overwhelmed and/or financially unstable.
There are increasing numbers of con artists working scams on the elderly. Elderly men are given attention by much younger, attractive women in the form of flirting and compliments. These are abusers who intentionally set out to charm their way into the lives of unsuspecting elders. The abuser may offer to shop for the elder or drive them to appointments. Once in the elder’s good graces, the abuser will add items for her own personal use, or ask for reimbursement far beyond the actual cost of the purchased items. The con will confess that she loves him and ask him to buy expensive items, pay rent, buy cars or jewelry, or pay off credit cards and debts. Often this abuse is not reported because when the elder realizes he was victimized, he is too ashamed to make the crime public.
Perhaps the worst type of abuse is the caregiver who is brought into the elder’s residence to provide the care and assistance needed by the elder. Family members and loved-ones make sure that the caregiver is provided with room, board, and a salary, believing that all is fine. The caregiver turns out to be a drug addict or alcoholic and is consumed by her addiction and rendered unable to follow through with her duties. The elder is neglected, malnourished and dehydrated. Or, the caregiver has a pattern of inflicting physical or sexual abuse. If the family members live out of state and the elder has difficulty communicating, the crime can continue in secret until it is too late.
As a business owner or even as a concerned neighbor, you can help stop or prevent elder abuse. Know the warning signs and know who to call if you suspect that there is some type of elder abuse. Every individual has a right to grow old with dignity and respect.
Warning signs of Elder Abuse:
- Obvious lacerations, abrasions, bruises, swelling on the elder’s body
- Elder experiencing tenderness or pain at the slightest touch
- Rope burns or obvious discoloration of skin from use of restraints, or cigarette burns
- Elder acting different from ordinary self when around caretaker
- Elder is withdrawn and fearful, experiencing unusual mood changes or anger
- Elder is disengaged in a business transaction, confused by his or her surroundings
- Elder engaging in transactions inconsistent with regular pattern of spending
- Elder seems hesitant or nervous, or it appears that the family member is bullying or threatening them
- Elder experiences sudden weight loss or shows signs of dehydration or malnutrition
- Elder lacks necessities such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, dentures, or walker
If you witness or suspect that someone is the victim of elder abuse you can immediately contact San Diego County Adult Protective Services (APS) at 1-800-510-2020. APS is a mandatory investigative agency, and will assist elders and their families.
Some of the above signs of elder abuse may be indications of self-neglect. Elders need assistance when it appears that they cannot take care of themselves, manage their resources or resist undue influence. A Court can appoint a Conservator to make sure that abuse and neglect does not happen, and that necessary assistance is obtained.
If your elder family member requires assistance, please make sure that you take the following precautions before hiring a caregiver:
- Insist on personal references and make sure you verify the references.
- Obtain a background check through a licensed agency.
- Use a caregiver service that is bonded and insured.
- Remove all valuables, such and jewelry and weapons from the home
If it appears that a Conservatorship is necessary, or if you are a caregiver and want the protection of the Court by becoming a Conservator, please contact an experienced probate attorney who can assist you. Let’s all work together to ensure that every elder receives the protection and help that they deserve.
Miranda C. Franks, Esq.