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Learning to Recognize the Telltale Signs of Elder Abuse


When you can’t do things for yourself, you’re dependent on someone else. It’s bad enough to lose your independence, but worse still when you find that your caretaker, a legal guardian entrusted to be responsible for your care, has turned into your worst nightmare.

While difficult to imagine, it is an unfortunate reality for many at-risk seniors in the U.S.

Legal guardians differ from loved ones who are simply caring for an aging relative. These guardians are appointed by courts to look after an elderly person who’s been deemed unable to care for himself or herself.

Because legal guardians often have control over everything from refilling their charge’s medications to paying their bills and choosing where they live, retirees who rely on them can be in a highly vulnerable position.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly how widespread abuse by legal guardians is because there’s limited data. In a 2010 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified hundreds of allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation by guardians in 45 states and the District of Columbia between 1990 and 2010. At that time, it reviewed 20 of those cases and found that guardians had stolen or otherwise improperly obtained $5.4 million from 158 incapacitated victims, many of whom were older adults.

Because legal guardians often have control over everything from refilling their charge’s medications to paying their bills and choosing where they live, retirees who rely on them can be in a highly vulnerable position.

These stories offer a sad glimpse of what can happen to vulnerable adults as they age and come to rely on outside assistance to an ever-increasing degree.

“Because our volunteers are right in homes and get to know their elderly client so well, we sadly either suspect or hear of many stories of abuse,” Lynette Whiteman tells DepositAccounts. She is executive director of Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey, a nonprofit that provides volunteers to help the homebound elderly remain in their homes for as long as possible by shepherding them to medical appointments and helping out with vital errands like grocery shopping.

Whiteman also explains why the abuse that is reported may not capture the full picture or hint at the full scope of the problem.

“One of the most important things to keep in mind is that the elderly very rarely will report it themselves,” she says. “They are at a stage in life where they are relying on people for care and if they ‘tell on them,’ they are incredibly fearful that their care will be taken away.”

Research shows elder abuse is often committed by relatives, such as a spouse, and that familial ties can make things more complicated.

When someone in Whiteman’s organization suspects abuse, he or she calls the state’s Adult Protective Services agency. “Reports can be made anonymously, but we have a good relationship with the social workers so we trust them,” she says. “A trained social worker goes to the house and they know to talk to the elderly person alone and gather the pertinent info to move to next steps.”

What are some red flags of elder abuse?

Rick Lauber, author of “The Successful Caregiver’s Guide,” served as caregiver for both of his aging parents. His mother suffered from Parkinson’s disease and leukemia, while his father had Alzheimer’s.

If relatives of an elderly person are concerned about elder abuse, he says they should be watching for these red flags:

  • The sudden changing of a will
  • Unpaid bills
  • Suspicious transactions on financial statements

Christopher J. Berry, a certified elder law attorney, says it’s crucial to pay attention to your elderly loved one’s finances. “Money disappearing from accounts without a paper trail,” such as large cash withdrawals from ATMs, can be another sign that something is amiss.

Be leery, too, if you see new names on an older loved one’s bank signature card, the unexplained disappearance of valuable possessions or a sudden transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family, warns ReKeithen Miller, a certified financial planner with Palisades Hudson Financial Group.

What can you do?

In the case of fraud or theft, call your state's elder abuse hotline to file a report. You can learn more at:

1. The National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse: stopguardianabuse.org

2. The National Adult Protective Services Association: www.napsa-now.org/policy-advocacy/exploitation

Previous Comments
  |     |   Comment #1
That's why I hope that the body goes before the mind does.

At least that way you'll still know when it's time to hop on that ice flow and head out to sea.

If you go terminal in California, you can always cash in your chips.

Unless your mind goes first, that is
  |     |   Comment #2
Very poorly written article, so many details are missing and in order to comment, we must assume certain things like: Is the elderly living alone and is he/she self sufficient with money. Are there trusts, PODs, mortgages and so on.
Abuses are allowed to happen because of poor planing even in elderly' state run facilities. Most of the time it is about the money and if a person can solve that problem ahead of hiring caretaker, 100% of the problems can be solved.

Example: Get rid off the assets or convert them into non transferable equity, like get a reverse mortgage, that will solve the real estate abuses. Create irrevocable trust and put most of the left over assets and money in it with a trustee instruction that will be distributed according to the wishes of the creator of the trust.
Open bank or CU checking account that instructs all of the income goes there and all of the bills are paid automatically from one place only and sign for electronic statement and notifications in electronic form only. No statement to be mailed at the home address where the account number and the bank name is fully exposed.
Cut in half all debit cards when you receive them or instruct the bank to never issue you one. Buy with credit card that has a very small allotment of credit like $500 before it maxes out ( or as per needs arise) and never leave it out of sight or lock it in a secure place.
This kind of arrangement can solve most if not all abuses on the elderly considering the money issue, the physical abuse is a totally different problem, police and DA must be involved.
common sense?
  |     |   Comment #10
comment #2,,,,,,,,,,,you have provided a parade of nostrum antidotes without a specific problem,,,,did you ever pass logic 101?
  |     |   Comment #11
Don't pick on Martin. Everyone that does has their comments deleted. Must be a relative of you know who.
  |     |   Comment #13
common sense?, you have no sense at all, Martin's post is 100 times more informative than the article itself, read Martin's post line by line to understand the depth and the logic. Your logic is with anarchist's thoughts and by posting anonymously with different proxy servers, makes you outlaw. Ken should trace you and never let you post again, same goes for madamex, phony person with phony posts.
  |     |   Comment #14
Your right, Justin. Though I don't always agree with Martin, his comments as well as other informative comments by others have always been appreciated.

Like I had advocated in the past, commenters should have to register and log on before posting comments. It would help eliminate a lot of the trolling and nonsense being posted on this forum. But that's strictly up to the administrators and it's their call.
  |     |   Comment #21
If the nonsense is stopped. You guys would be the first to go!
  |     |   Comment #20
Just a 100 times? He's solved 100% of the problems in his rant. Especially, the reverse mortgage one. Solid logic there.
  |     |   Comment #19
Reverse mortgage...now there's a sure thing...unless your out of the house for more than 12 months...then they can take your house away from you. Great suggestion!
  |     |   Comment #23
I usually do not respond to Trolls, but you need more education on reverse mortgages, There are line of credits, cash upfront, clause to buy it back and a clause for the surviving spouse to live after the death of the original borrower.
Mortgagee Letter 2014-07:
In April 2014, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released Mortgagee Letter 2014-07 announcing new changes to the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) loan, specifically for the non-borrowing spouses of reverse mortgage borrowers.
Effective for all new HECM loan FHA case numbers issued on or after August 4, 2014, the HUD letter states that non-borrowing spouses may remain in their homes. The remaining spouse can re-negotiate, assume or re-fi the existing loan or continue to live under the old rules.
Furthermore, the banks are forbidden to foreclose on reverse mortgage due to illness, hospitalization and other absentee owners and spouse(s) who still live in it. Only death can nullify a reverse mortgage, being absent is not a cause for action. Also a spouse can continue to live for a certain “deferral period” even after the death of their spouses.
  |     |   Comment #24
  |     |   Comment #25
#24, nobody said the reverse mortgages are for everyone, nobody is forcing anyone to do it, I never suggested anything other than as an option. I know people who made lots of money using the reverse mortgages. They opened line of credit as a reversed mortgage that comes with interest and cost next to nothing and are investing the proceeds in stocks, bonds, CDs, annuities and even government securities, all at no cost to them, free money to enjoy.
After pocketing the profits, they can pay it back to the bank as an option and continue to live payments and rent free for the rest of their lives.
  |     |   Comment #9
A terrifying story about how old people can get legal guardians appointed to them and robbed by these guardians without their loved ones knowledge and/or approval:
Robert Ray
  |     |   Comment #16
I live in Reno Nv and recently an employee of an assisted living center was sentenced to
only 3 years in prison for stealing the life savings of elderly man age 83. He lost over
$ 190,000.00. Assisted Living facilities are popping up all over Nevada. I think we need
more legal protection when an employee is involved. I'm 75 and fear I could be in that
situation if not careful. Robert
(Read news article http://mynews4.com/on-your-side/on-your-side-iteam/83-year-old-reno-man-falls-victim-to-mail-fraud-loses-life-savings
  |     |   Comment #17
That is why planning ahead is so critically important. Consulting and Elder Care Attorney may be a good option.
  |     |   Comment #22
On a more practical level, keep an eye on skilled nursing facilities. My Mom was released into one a few years before she died. The standing joke was a drugged resident is the best resident. When I finally got her dragged out of there, she was totally hooked on opioids. She kicked the opioids, cold turkey.
  |     |   Comment #27
THE ELDER ABUSE LAWS ARE AT THE STATE LEVEL.....and pertain mostly if not entirely to nursing homes and senior care givers,,,,,,,WELL,,,,,"said laws should be expanded" like every other body of law that has been created to protect the so called oppressed classes since the 1950's TO PROTECT SENIORS FROM UNSCRUPULOUS AND CROOKED CONTRACTORS, BANKERS, BUSINESS PEOPLE AND MEDICS,,,,,AND ESPECIALLY VETERINARIAN PET DOC'S,,,,,to name a few,,,,and the juris prudence should be in the criminal courts,,,,we all have access to civil courts over an offending business person,,,,,,just think of this as new streets paved with gold and glory for the trial lawyers that want criminal proceedings and scalps against the above named entities, in seeking justice for those senior citizens whose judgement becomes dull with age. small town america where many seniors live is RIPE WITH SLICK RUTHLESS CUNNING CROOKED BUSINESS PEOPLE AND MEDICS OF ALL TYPES TAKING ADVANTAGE OF SENIORS AND THEIR NEST EGGS.
  |     |   Comment #29
seniors often have companion pets of senior age themselves, that are all they have and love beyond all reason,,,,and wretched pet doc veterinarians are counseled by their accounting firms like kpmg to full take advantage of the emotions involved,,,,,,,the veterinarian associations are merciless in their counseling their members to take full advantage of seniors......Beware the veterinarian pet docs,,,,they are often no better than crooked roofers, siding contractors and used car lot mechanics,,,,,at least those shysters can't tear your heart out, just rip you off.
  |     |   Comment #30
It is a heart breaking when I read how cruel the world for our elder ones. I have this resources https://www.buymedical.com/senior-care-products/ which might help the senior citizens on their daily needs, they offer wholesale medical supplies for senior citizens and everybody that needs medical assistance.

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