Though most of us know elderly people, be they our parents, grandparents, friends, or neighbors, we don’t often think about elder abuse, but it is a growing problem. Elder abuse also occurs in ways we may not think about or know about. Most people know about physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, probably because these forms of abuse can happen at any age, but many are unfamiliar with types of abuse that seem to occur specifically with elderly people such as neglect, financial abuse, and abandonment. Though these forms of abuse may be less well known, they can be just as damaging as any other type of abuse.
When considering elder abuse it is important to keep in mind why the elderly population is so at risk. Elderly persons may experience a decline in both physical and cognitive abilities, and for this reason they can be more easily taken advantage of physically, and especially financially. Elderly people also have spent most of their lives working and saving for their ‘golden’ years. Having a life savings makes these people targets for, not only swindlers and thieves, but also in many cases their own family. Unfortunately, elderly individuals may have family members with gambling or drug problems, or family members that feel entitled to their money.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, the NCEA, neglect is defined as: “the refusal or failure to fulfill any part of a person's obligations or duties to an elder”. This could include denying someone basic necessities such as food, medicine, and water, and also things like refusing to pay for home health services and any other things previously agreed upon. Neglect can also be intentional or passive, so someone may not necessarily realize they are neglecting an elderly person.
One of the biggest categories of elder abuse is financial exploitation. According to the NCEA this is illegal or improper use of a person’s assets, property, or funds. The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, NCPEA, also points out that financial abuse can be theft of funds or assets, forgery, confidence schemes, or forcing someone to sign documents, usually wills or deed to benefit the other party. Again, this can be particularly devastating to an elderly individual because it can drain his or her life savings and leave very little money and very few assets to live with. This type of abuse can be very difficult to determine and prove because many elderly individuals do not have the capacity to conduct business on their own and need someone to do it for them. This makes for a difficult situation because what may appear to be financial abuse may really be a family member trying to help an elderly relative with his or her finances.
The NCEA mentions that another unique type of elder abuse is abandonment. This is similar to neglect, except the caretaker or family member doesn’t necessarily neglect the elderly person, but simply abandons him or her. One key aspect of this scenario is that the person abandoning the elderly individual has to have assumed the responsibility of caring for him or her at some point. It can’t be considered abandonment if this person has never assumed responsibility for the care of the elderly person.
Elder abuse is a growing problem that people need to be more aware of. Working at a bank, I can attest to the fact that elder abuse, especially finance exploitation, can be very difficult to recognize. Recently, the government has made many people, including bank employees, mandatory reporters of elder abuse. Hopefully, this will help teach people about elder abuse, and also raise awareness to this growing problem.