Tragically, the term “See Something, Say Something” and its call to action are focused these days on defending ourselves against acts of terrorism right here, where we live. But the concept the term expresses applies to other things against which we must defend ourselves, our friends, neighbors, and loved ones. One such thing is the growing problem of Elder Abuse.
Elder Abuse takes many forms. It can be physical, emotional, sexual, or financial and can include neglect, abandonment and criminal activities such as swindles and cons. Much elder abuse is a combination of several of these forms. The results can be devastating to the victim.
As a person ages, and becomes more physically frail and dependent on others, they are less likely to be able to defend themselves or even recognize that the abuse is occurring. Couple their increasing frailty with hearing loss, poor eyesight, and a loss of mental sharpness and vulnerability greatly increases. The abusers can be strangers, but it is more likely that they are friends or relatives of the abused elder. Some are professional criminals.
According to the National Center for Elder Abuse, “an estimated 1.2 million older Americans are victims of physical, psychological, or other forms of abuse and neglect. Those statistics may not tell the whole story. For every case of elder abuse and neglect that is reported to authorities, experts estimate that there may be as many as five cases that have not been reported. Recent research suggests that elders who have been abused tend to die earlier than those who are not abused, even in the absence of chronic conditions or life threatening disease.”
Abuse can be somewhat minor looking or go unnoticed such as a caregiver raising their voice to control behavior or threatening to or actually withholding something the elder needs, or neglecting the elder by leaving them alone for long periods. Many times abuse occurs when the caregiver and elder are alone.
Many people who hear “elder abuse and neglect” think about older people living in nursing homes or about elderly relatives who live all alone and never have visitors. But elder abuse is not just a problem of older people living on the margins of our everyday life. Often it occurs in our midst, out in the open.
Financial abuse and exploitation is an example of a form of abuse that usually occurs in the presence of others.
An actual occurrence here in Orange County is a case in point. A very nice lady, let’s call her Mrs. Jones was a long-time regular customer of a bank. The staff knew her well and she visited the bank often. Mr. Jones passed away over a year ago and Mrs. Jones was coping with the loss very well, her grief had subsided and her normal happy demeanor was reemerging.
Then on day she was accompanied to the bank by a man and a woman in their forties. She did her normal banking, nothing unusual, and introduced them as her new caregivers. The bank staff was concerned at first but there was no reason to assume wrongdoing. But as time went on the male half of the couple seemed to increase his control and eventually did most of the talking to the bank staff with Mrs. Jones simply agreeing. The bank staff got more suspicious when checks were processed, written to pay her usual bills, but the signature was slightly different. Then on day a very large check came through payable to the male caregiver and deposited into his account. The bank called Mrs. Jones who said it was a loan to him and told the bank to pay the check. She seemed tense, not herself. The bank contacted the Orange County Council on Aging elder abuse hotline and reported the incident. It turned out that the couple was attempting to gain title to Mrs. Jones’ assets, including her home and car. Luckily for Mrs. Jones, the couple was not far enough along to do much damage and disappeared. Mrs. Jones had no children but a niece was contacted who came to her rescue. Mrs. Jones sold her home and moved to a very nice independent living facility. She is still there and is very happy all because her bank’s staff saw something and said something.
Bankers, insurance professionals, stock brokers, and financial planners all receive continuing education training in elder abuse so that they can recognize the red flags that indicate the possibility of such abuse. “By increasing awareness among physicians, mental health professionals, home health care workers, and others who provide services to the elderly and family members, patterns of abuse or neglect can be broken, and both the abused person and the abuser can receive needed help,” says the National Center for Elder Abuse.
All of us can help by being observant and recognizing the signs that elder abuse might be present. A great deal of information is available at http://www.elder-abuseca.com/index.html. If you see something, say something to Adult Protective Services (24-hour hotline) at (800) 451-5155.