According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 10% of adults over age 65 have experienced some form of elder abuse. Elder abuse includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect, abandonment, and financial abuse. Two-thirds of abusers are adult children or family members, but perpetrators may also include home caregivers or staff at care facilities. Many of these cases go unreported as elders are put in the position of losing or alienating the person they depend on for care.
To increase public awareness and improve data collection and reporting, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has declared elder abuse a public health issue. In a 2016 study, Elder Abuse Surveillance, the CDC outlined a set of uniform definitions and data elements to be used in collecting elder abuse data. In the past, varying definitions of elder abuse have made it difficult to gain a clear understanding of the impact on individuals, the aging community as a whole, and the related national health care costs.
There are three compelling factors that make elder abuse an important public health issue.
- The aging population. According to the CDC, in 1900 there were 3 million older adults (defined as persons over 60). By 1994, there were 33 million, and by 2030 the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there will be 71 million. In 1994, about 1 in 8 Americans were aged 65 years or older, and by 2030, that figure is predicted to be 1 in 5.
- The numerous and varied physical and psychosocial impacts of elder abuse. Physical impacts include everything from bruises to broken bones to premature death. Psychological impacts range from fear and anxiety to depression to post-traumatic stress syndrome. And social impacts include isolation, decreased social resources and increased expenditures on services to replace those resources.
- The cost of elder abuse. It’s estimated that elder abuse contributes more than $5.3 billion to the U.S. annual health expenditures. Add to that the costs associated with prosecuting the abusers.
One of the costliest forms of elder abuse is financial abuse. It’s estimated that financial abuse costs U.S. seniors more than $3 billion annually. And only 1 in 44 of those exploited ever report the abuse.
Financial abuse can take many forms:
- Theft of personal items
- Inadequate living environment
- Unauthorized property title changes or will changes
- Unnecessary home repairs or purchases
- The elder being forced to sign over control of finances
- No or limited money for food, clothes and other necessities
Prevention of financial abuse can only occur if there is awareness, and any suspicions of abuse, neglect or exploitation of vulnerable adults are immediately reported to Adult Protective Services and/or law enforcement.
If you are caring for an aging loved one, here are some simple strategies to protect them from financial abuse.
- Review the mail. Take note of solicitations from charities. Talk with your parents about their goals for charitable contributions. Encourage them to keep it simple. I found my dad made at least 10 gifts to the same charity over the course of 1 year because he responded to each “thank you” with a check! A time-honored guideline is 10% of net income – anything more isn’t necessarily bad, but should warrant a discussion.
- Review credit card statements and run an annual credit report. Consolidate credit cards to the ones with the lowest interest rate. Take note of and follow up to resolve any suspicious activity. Credit card theft is often the first portal for identity thieves. For older adults, 2 major credit cards should be enough.
- Watch for unsolicited checks made out in their name. Banks will cash them and then hold your parents responsible when the fake is uncovered. By then, the issuer may have access to your parents’ account information, placing their savings in jeopardy.
- Secure critical information. If your parents have a home safe, make sure it’s locked and that you have a list of its contents and the combination. If they use a computer, make sure they do not put their account numbers and passwords in plain sight. Emergency call lists with other critical information should be posted visibly, but Social Security Numbers and PINs should not.
- Establish a “worry free spending threshold.” Before spending a large amount of money or signing a contract, you should encourage your parents to review the purchase with a family member or trusted friend. The threshold you agree upon will depend on your parents’ financial situation and should give them enough wiggle room to not feel like they’re on an allowance, but give you the comfort to know that a bad decision won’t break the bank.
- Hire a Daily Money Manager. DMMs are like personal book-keepers who can provide third party oversight for vulnerable seniors and their finances. Call me to learn more about DMMs or visit the American Association of Daily Money Managers’ website!
You can find additional information and resources in the National Council for Aging Care’s Guide on Elder Abuse.