Sadly, abuse of the elderly takes on numerous shapes and forms, and is not limited to physical abuse. It often manifests itself in emotional, psychological and financial abuse.
As one ages, one’s vulnerabilities often become more pronounced. Loss of vision, hearing, range of motion, physical strength and mental acuity all make one more vulnerable to potential abuse. Unfortunately, these abusive actions are most often committed by family members and friends of the elderly.
Fortunately, history and experience have provided us with the ability to recognize the circumstances where abuse may be present. For example, the family and friends of a senior need to pay particular attention to any injury, bruises and/or fractures suffered by the senior. It is important to make immediate inquiry with the senior as to how and when the injury occurred. It is also important to inquire with the attending medical professional as to whether the injury is consistent with the description provided by the senior. It should be remembered that the physical abuse can be unwanted physical contact and non-consensual sexual activity, which may not require a visit to the doctor and/or hospital or be visible on the person’s body.
For decades I have advocated that family and friends stay in regular and consistent contact with the elderly so as to ensure that they don’t become victims of elder abuse.
It is during these visits where it is incumbent upon the visitor to be inquisitive and observant of the senior’s physical appearance, attire, and mood. Visitors should look for bruises, cuts and scrapes, and make inquiries as to how they occurred. Determine whether the senior is wearing clean clothing and properly attired for the day and season. Look for signs of depression, anxiety, mood swings and unusual behavior by the senior. All of the aforestated are possible signs that the senior may be the victim of some form of abuse, and if not, they could be signs that the senior is having greater physical, mental and emotional difficulties which require that the senior be provided with greater daily assistance and care.
One common tell-tale sign is that seniors will generally react differently toward those individuals that are abusing them. For example, if the senior all of a sudden becomes very quiet, withdrawn, and/or fearful and anxious in the presence of a loved one or caregiver, this may be evidence that some form of mistreatment has occurred. If one observes this type of behavior on a regular basis, it may be wise to make inquiries about any mistreatment with the senior outside of the presence of the potential abuser. Also, any attempts by a loved one or caregiver to isolate the senior from family and friends is also a common sign of potential abuse. Attempts to isolate and/or separate the senior from having regular contact with family and friends should not be tolerated and must be prevented.
Unfortunately, financial abuse and/or being a victim of a scam are much more difficult to detect, because they necessitate that one have knowledge of the senior’s finances and/or require that the senior openly discusses and admits what they have been doing with their finances. Detecting the financial abuse necessitates that one have the ability to examine the senior’s financial and bank records. Not an easy task unless the senior consents to the loved one having access to and knowledge of their finances.
If one is fortunate enough to have access to the records, it is important to carefully review them to ascertain if there are unusual charges and/or gifts being made. Seniors are victimized by a variety of scams that occur over the telephone or over the computer. Often, their loneliness and lack of companionship makes them especially vulnerable to these scams.
The making of gifts to one’s caregiver and/or the caregivers’ family is not appropriate and should be carefully scrutinized, reported, and discouraged. We recently handled a Guardianship proceeding wherein the caregiver allegedly would make inappropriate sexual advances to the spouse of the senior she cared for. In return, the caregiver and her family members received large gifts from the spouse.
If a senior is having difficulty paying their bills, complaining that items are missing from their home and their bank accounts are unusually smaller than normal, they may be the victim of abuse and/or are losing the ability to manage their finances. In either case, family scrutiny and intervention may be warranted.
In conclusion, paying attention to the day-to-day activities and condition of a senior is critical to helping prevent them from becoming a victim of abuse. If abuse is present, the family should consider the commencement of a Guardianship proceeding for the senior and report the abuse to their local district attorney’s office for investigation.
*Anthony J. Enea is a member of Enea, Scanlan and Sirignano, LLP of White Plains and Somers, NY. He focuses his practice on Elder Law, Wills, Trusts and Estates. Mr. Enea is the Pas Chair of Elder Law and Special Needs Section of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA). He is the current Chair of the 50+ Section of the NYSBA. Mr. Enea is the Past President and Founding Member of the New York Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). Mr. Enea is the President of the Westchester County Bar Foundation and a Past President of the Westchester County Bar Association. He is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney as accredited by the National Elder Law Foundation. He is fluent in Italian.
Mr. Enea Can be reached at 914-948-1500 or at email@example.com