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Preventing Elder Abuse

There are two main categories of elder abuse: physical and financial. Each has its own set of warning signs and responses.

The growth of the elderly population in Arizona and America is producing an unprecedented level of abuse against senior citizens. Every day, thousands of elderly Americans are physically, emotionally or financially abused by family members, "friends," paid caregivers, door-to-door salespeople and telemarketers.

For a variety of reasons, these victims of abuse may be unable or unwilling to defend themselves. If you have an elderly friend or relative who may be vulnerable to or easily influenced by others, you should be alert to evidence of possible abuse and know how to react to it.

There are two main categories of elder abuse: physical and financial. Each has its own set of warning signs and responses.

Signs of Physical Abuse

Most warning signs of physical abuse fairly are easy to detect and fall into any of four categories: (1) evidence of physical injury, (2) decline in physical condition, (3) poor living conditions and (4) abnormal behavior, such as social withdrawal, depression or poor self-esteem, fright or nervousness, agitation or trembling, hesitance to talk openly, and implausible stories.

If you encounter an elderly person who exhibits signs of physical abuse, the following questions may help confirm your suspicions:

  • Has anyone at home ever hurt you?

  • Has anyone ever touched you without your consent?

  • Has anyone ever made you do things you didn't want to do?

  • Has any one taken anything that was yours without asking?

  • Has anyone ever scolded or threatened you?

  • Are you afraid of anyone at home?

  • Are you alone a lot?

  • Has anyone ever failed to help you take care of yourself when you needed help?

If you encounter an elderly or otherwise dependent person whom you suspect is the victim of physical abuse, report your suspicions to someone in a position of responsibility, such as a trusted family member, the staff of the elderly person's retirement community, the State of Arizona Division of Aging and Adult Services or the local police.

Do not confront the suspected abuser unless you fear that the elderly person is in immediate danger. If the senior citizen appears in immediate danger, take him or her to a hospital or other place of safety.

Financial Abuse

"Elder fraud" and other forms of financial abuse of senior citizens is a booming business. The threat of elder fraud may come from door-to-door salespeople, telemarketers or other predators, including relatives, companions and caregivers in whom the elderly person's trust has been misplaced.

Three types of senior citizens are prime targets for financial abusers: those who depend heavily on a caregiver for advice and management of their financial affairs; those who try to manage their own affairs after their ability to do so has seriously declined; and widows and widowers.

Whether or not a senior citizen meets one of the above criteria, a variety of factors may make him or her vulnerable to financial abuse:

Too much idle time. Some senior citizens pass time by reading their mail and taking phone calls and visits from strangers with attractive purchases, prizes and investments.

Isolation. Many senior citizens retire to warmer climates that are far away from their families. They may view solicitors as welcome sources of companionship.

Incapacity. A senior does not have to be completely incapacitated to fall prey to fraud. If a person has even partially impaired vision, for example, he or she may be inclined to take the verbal assurances of someone who is offering them a difficult-to-read document.

Fear. The most common victims of financial abuse are senior citizens who are struggling to retain their independence in the face of declining health or capacity. Even after know they have been defrauded, they are often reluctant to report it for fear that they will be found incompetent and forced to turn over control of their affairs to a guardian.

Other Warning Signs

  • An adult child, housekeeper or caregiver has the privilege of writing checks without independent oversight.

  • Constantly present is a relative, friend or caregiver in whom the elder has placed his or her confidence and who seems to exhibit great influence.

  • The elderly person has issued a general power of attorney to another person.

  • The house is cluttered with products for which the senior citizen has no use.

  • Valuable possessions – jewelry, artwork, appliances – seem to be missing or disappearing.

  • The senior citizen's check register shows large disbursements to charities, mail-order companies, bank-card institutions or other payees.

To Uncover or Prevent Financial Abuse

Adult children are in the best position to prevent financial abuse. They should keep in close touch with their parents and stay involved, even if only by telephone, to ease their parent's sense of isolation; discuss their parents' finances with them, and pay attention to what they receive in the mail; and show support and sympathy for a sibling who is their parent's main caregiver. Such support will help avoid resentment that may cause caregivers, frustrated by a perceived lack of appreciation for their efforts, to take their "fair share" from their parent.

If You Suspect Financial Abuse

Report suspected abuse to family members, the police, the senior citizen's attorney, or Adult Protective Services. If you suspect fraud by a family member, alert other family members who you do not suspect of complicity in the exploitation. When alerting family members, be extremely cautious; avoid unequivocal accusations against the suspected abuser.

If you have a question on this topic that can be answered in a brief conversation, call us (480-985-4445) for a free 5-minute phone call with a Taylor Skinner attorney.

Michael Kleinman