We take care of ourselves better now than before. Our elderly population is more active in society than it was before. We live longer today than we did before. However, this opens the door for more cases of elder abuse and neglect. This is especially true in Pennsylvania as it is reported that the Commonwealth has the fourth oldest population in the United States.
Elder abuse is defined by the American Psychological Association as the infliction of physical, emotional/psychological, sexual or financial harm on an older adult. Elder abuse can take the form of intentional or unintentional neglect of an older adult by a caregiver.
Most cases go unreported. Victims are often too ashamed to reveal the abuse, or worried that reporting it will make matters worse. This is likely because almost 90% of elder abuse and neglect incidents happen at the hands of a family member. Two-thirds of the perpetrators are adult children or spouses. Other classes of persons often found to be the abusers are friends and neighbors, and home care aides.
According to the World Health Organization:
- Around 1 in 10 older people experience abuse every month.
- Rates of abuse may be higher for older people living in institutions than in the community.
- Elder abuse can lead to serious physical injuries and long-term psychological consequences.
- Elder abuse is predicted to increase as many countries are experiencing rapidly aging populations.
- The global population of people aged 60 years and older will more than double, from 900 million in 2015 to about 2 billion in 2050.
Whether your loved one lives in a skilled nursing facility, at home and receives in-home care by a spouse or a caregiver, or by themselves, you should always be on the lookout for signs of abuse. Sign or symptoms of elder abuse may include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Excessive or unexplained bruises, burns, cuts or broken bones
- A desire to be by oneself, nervous or withdrawn
- Unusual bank withdrawals or “gifts”
- Random transfers of assets, such as real estate, automobiles or jewelry
Because they may be weaker, isolated, or dependent on the care of others, older individuals are easy, vulnerable targets for abuse. So, keep a close eye on your loved one. Question your loved one on any unexplained bruises, burns, cuts or broken bones. Ask her what happened and see if she can provide you with a believable or probable explanation. Question your loved one’s caregivers and doctors about any troubling or unusual characteristics. Be on the lookout for unusual changes to your loved one’s financial situation, including unaccounted-for checks, a sudden change in financial position, or the sudden inability to pay bills. If your loved one’s explanations do not seem supported by facts or probable events, use the resources available in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to help protect her.
An abundance of resources are available online that provide information on the warning signs of elder abuse and where to turn if abuse is suspected. For instance, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Administration on Aging: https://aoa.acl.gov/aoa_programs/elder_rights/ea_prevention/whatIsEA.aspx
Another resource is the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General – Elder Abuse Unit: https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/Education/Elder_Abuse_Unit.
In Allegheny County, a resource to view is http://www.county.allegheny.pa.us/Human-Services/About/Contact/Older-Adult-Abuse.aspx
Also, in Pennsylvania, you can report abuse to the 24-hour Elder Abuse Hotline through the Pennsylvania Office of Victim Services at 1-800-490-8505, or 1-866-623-2137 through the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General – Elder Abuse Unit. Abuse can be reported by you, or on behalf of your loved one. In most cases, the reports remain anonymous, and an investigation will be conducted by an appropriate agency.
Additionally, there are actions that can be taken by a private lawyer. This may include petitioning the court to become a guardian over your loved one if she lacks the necessary capacity to make her own decisions and does not have an appropriate power of attorney, or the current agent under an existing power of attorney is perpetuating the elder abuse. Other actions may include bringing litigation to try to recoup money or property illicitly acquired by the perpetrator of the abuse. If not already in place, an elder law attorney can assist with preparation of a Will, an Advanced Health Care Directive, and a Financial Power of Attorney – of which the latter two will allow for a trusted advisor to assist in making decisions about medical care, living arrangements, or financial decisions.
For more information about how we can assist you, please contact us.