We’ve all seen the ads on television about the lawyers who will stand up for our older loved one if they are abused or neglected in a nursing home or other facility. A bruise, a bed sore or maybe loss in weight can be pretty conspicuous warning signs, but there is another pervasive abuse of older adults in America, an abuse that has no telltale bruises. We know from the statistics that one in nine older adults in America has been abused, but financial abuse specifically is substantially under-reported. Experts at the National Adult Protective Services Association report that only about one in 44 cases of financial abuse of seniors ever gets reported. Exacerbating this under-reporting is the simple fact that senior financial abuse doesn’t leave a mark on the abused victim.
But it does raise a flag if you know what to look for. Look for telltale changes in your older loved one such as:
- Sudden changes in a will or other document that now includes a new beneficiary.
- The “live-in” caregiver who seems to be “living off” their client.
- An unexpected increase in credit card debt or an unusually large line item.
- Money spent that has a wild or outlandish explanation.
- More frequent withdrawals on a bank account or new accounts with someone else’s name on it.
- Vague explanations or complaints about a missing credit card.
- Guarded talking or behavior around a new caregiver that may suggest they are being intimidated.
- Missing items like jewelry, money, antiques, art or even furniture from their home.
- That new girl or boy friend…maybe some significant number of years younger.
Older adults are prime targets because they have the money…their savings, retirement accounts, mortgage-free home or other assets. Older adults are also more vulnerable because they may live alone, they may have chronic medical conditions requiring assistance or they are simply weaker than their exploiter. Older women are particularly vulnerable for all of these reasons plus their upbringing was in a time when women were simply taught to defer, to be nice, to be polite. And nearly half of all abusers are family members or friends. Please remember also that the earlier you spot the flags, the easier it is to “fix the problem.”
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.