One in ten Americans aged 60 or above have experienced some form of elder abuse.
June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, a day designated to bring visibility to the prevalence of global elder abuse. According to the National Council on Aging, one in ten Americans aged 60 or above have experienced some form of elder abuse. It is expected that with the number of older persons growing, abuse of the elderly will also grow. Though elder abuse is a serious and common problem that could lead to poverty, hunger, homelessness, compromised health and well-being, and even premature mortality, it often is one of the least investigated or reported types of abuse.
Recent research findings have highlighted financial exploitation as a frequent form of elder abuse. It has been estimated on a global scale that 5 to 10 per cent of older people may experience some kind of financial exploitation. Financial exploitation often goes unreported either due to the victim’s embarrassment or because of an impairment resulting in an inability to report the abuse.
An older person may be vulnerable to financial exploitation due to social isolation and cognitive impairments. Other factors that place the elderly at risk include: emotional or physical dependence on the perpetrator, financial dependence of the abuser on the older person, certain living arrangements, poverty, widowhood and lack of support networks. Societal prejudices such as ageism and discriminatory systems may also contribute toward the elderly being at risk of financial exploitation.
One way to prevent elder abuse is to plan for the future. A power of attorney or a living will can address health care and financial decisions and better avoid confusion and problems later on. Having a will and reviewing the will periodically may also help prevent abuse. An estate planning attorney can provide assistance in planning for the future.
Family members and others concerned about preventing or stopping ongoing elder abuse also have options. Education on abuse and being able to identify the common forms it takes can be critical to prevention. For education resources go to https://ncea.acl.gov/
Reporting abuse or suspected abuse is also vital. For immediate, life-threatening danger, the police should be contacted. If an older person is being mistreated the local Adult Protective Services office should be contacted. If the older person is in a facility, such as a nursing home, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman should be contacted. In Oregon the Elder Abuse Hotline number is 1-855-503-7233.
While physical abuse and some financial abuse issues can be appropriately responded to by the police, other financial abuse issues may require an experienced elder abuse attorney.
An experienced elder abuse attorney may be able to determine whether financial elder abuse has occurred through undue influence, lack of capacity, or a breach of fiduciary duty. If financial abuse has occurred an experienced elder abuse attorney may be able to litigate abuse claims on behalf of the victim or the victim’s family.
Special thanks to Daniela Holgate for her work on this article. Daniela is a law clerk at SYK, and a J.D. candidate at Lewis & Clark School of law.
Not only is Victoria Blachly a partner at SYK, and an experienced fiduciary litigator that works with many elderly clients, cases or causes, she is also a proud Board Member for the Oregon Alzheimer’s Association Chapter.