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Elder Abuse Awareness: Protecting Loved Ones

June 14, 2023

Holding hands with elder in wheelchair

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15, recognizes the risks of elder abuse and neglect of older people. It’s a day for family and caregivers around the world to learn how to take proactive steps to protect loved ones and for older people to learn how they can protect themselves.

What is elder abuse and neglect?

Elder abuse is physical, emotional, financial, or sexual harm inflicted upon an older adult, or neglect of welfare by people who are responsible for their care. Elders are categorized as 60 years or older. In the United States alone, approximately 1 in 10 people experience some form of elder abuse. These victims are often physically frail or have diminished mental capacity, which makes them easy targets for those wanting to take advantage of them. An older woman is more likely to be abused than an older man. At least 65% of total elder abuse victims are women.

This abuse is often perpetrated by family members, including adult children, spouses, and partners. However, a hired caregiver who is working inside of the home or in a nursing home or assisted living facility can also be the perpetrator.

The many forms of elder abuse

Physical abuse: involves the intentional use of force against an elderly person, that can result in injury, physical pain, or impairment. Physical abuse includes assault, hitting, shoving, and the use of restraints or misuse of drugs. Any form of abuse that causes harm to someone’s physical person would be categorized as physical abuse.

Emotional abuse: involves treating an older adult poorly, that would cause emotional or psychological harm. Some forms of emotional abuse would be intimidation by threats, yelling, humiliation, habitual blaming, ignoring, terrorizing them, and even isolating the older person from family and friends.

Sexual abuse: involves any sexual contact with an older person without their consent and/or showing them pornographic material against their will. It also includes making the older adult undress in unwarranted and inappropriate situations.

Neglect: the most common type of elder abuse, is when a caregiver fails to provide proper care. When a caregiver fails to meet their nutritional needs, medical needs, dressing them in an appropriate manner or maintaining an acceptable level of hygiene, this would be considered elder neglect. Half of the reports of elder abuse fall under elder neglect.

Healthcare Fraud: involves Medicare/Insurance fraud. Even though this type of abuse can happen anywhere, it is more common in medical or rehab facilities. Healthcare fraud can consist of overmedicating or under-medicating, double billing for medical care or services, charging for healthcare services that were not rendered and recommending fraudulent remedies.

Financial Exploitation: involves the unauthorized use of their funds or property, including stealing cash or using an elder’s checks or credit cards without their approval. Forging their signature and/or identity theft is another means of financial exploitation. This kind of abuse is often done by family members or caregivers. However, there are a lot of scams that prey on older adults and could result in large financial losses and emotional turmoil.

Warning Signs of Elder Abuse

Often elder abuse can be hard to spot because it’s mistaken for symptoms of dementia or physical frailty. However, there are warning signs of elder abuse if you pay attention closely. If you suspect abuse, look for the following warning signs:

  • Unexplained injuries, such as bruises, scars, broken bones, or dislocations.
  • A report of drug overdose or failure to take medication.
  • Signs of being restrained, such as rope marks on wrists.
  • Caregiver’s refusal to allow you to see the older person alone.
  • Threatening, belittling, or controlling caregiver behavior.
  • Behavior that mimics dementia, such as rocking or mumbling to themselves.
  • Unusual weight loss or loss of appetite.
  • Unsanitary living conditions.
  • Being left dirty or unbathed.
  • Unsuitable clothing or covering for the weather.
  • Unsafe living conditions.
  • Unexplained withdrawals from financial accounts.
  • Sudden changes in financial condition.
  • Suspicious changes in wills, power of attorney, titles, and policies.
  • Addition of names to the senior’s signature card.
  • Duplicate billings for the same medical service.
  • Evidence of overmedication or under-medication.

Dig Deeper: Financial Abuse

The Grandparent Scam

One form of financial abuse perpetrated by scammers is called the “Grandparent Scam.” This scam preys on older individuals by calling them, pretending to be their grandchild, and using this relationship to manipulate them out of money. Let’s look at the following scam scenario and break down what this scam looks like:

Scammer: “Grandma? Is that you?”

Elder: “What’s the matter, honey?”

Scammer: “Grandma, you gotta help me! They’re going to arrest me if I don’t pay the fine – and I lost my wallet! I don’t have a penny on me or any ID. Can you wire me some money?”

Scammer may go as far as to use an app that changes the tone of their voice to sound more like their grandchild. There’s no emergency, no imminent arrest, and no lost wallet. They are not speaking to their grandchild, but they are unaware that they are being scammed. Family emergency scams, also known as “grandparent scams,” are some of the most heinous scams around. They prey on the affection that the grandparents have for their grandchild. They are usually conducted through a phone call, but can show up as an urgent email, text, or social media message or post.

If you are an elder and receive one of these messages, there are a few things to look out for to stop this scam:

  • The caller will insist upon absolute secrecy. They won’t want you to tell or consult anyone else. Any true law enforcement officer would have no request for such secrecy.

  • They will only accept certain means of payment. They will ask for a money wire money, send a prepaid debit card, cashier’s check, or certified check. Criminals love these payment methods because they provide the victim with very little recourse once they’ve discovered the scam.

  • Your “grandchild” does not know basic information about themselves or family. To avoid being scammed, ask the grandchild about some personal details that a stranger would not be able to answer. This could include inside jokes, specific details about family members, or even “dropping” an incorrect name of a family member. If the grandchild continues with the conversation without questioning the wrong information, it is most likely a scam.

If you or a family member have received a frantic phone call from your grandchild and you believe it to be true, take a moment and verify information before acting. You’ll likely be urged to act quickly but taking a few minutes to verify that the caller is in fact your grandchild could prevent you from being scammed. You can hang up the phone and redial your grandchild’s phone number or contact the parents and verify the grandchild’s whereabouts. You may be shocked to find out that they are safe at home with their parents.

Other types of elder financial scams are online romance scams, online shopping scams, tech support scams, sweepstakes and lottery scams, and many more.

If you’ve been scammed

If you have fallen for the scam and only recognize the ruse after you’ve sent money to the scammer, you may still be able to reclaim some or all of your funds by reporting the scam to the Federal Trade Commission or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP. Even if you are unable to reclaim your lost funds, you will be doing your part to help the authorities put crooks behind bars.

With more and more older people becoming targets of scammers, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime instituted the National Elder Abuse Fraud Hotline for people to report fraud against anyone age 60 or older. The toll-free number of the National Elder Fraud Hotline is 833–FRAUD–11 or 833–372–8311.These calls remain anonymous, and friends, family, and caregivers may call the hotline if fraud is suspected. Translation services are also available to callers.

Reporting fraud as soon as it occurs is key to victims recovering their losses. Victims should also report crimes to local police, their financial institutions, state attorneys general, and in cases of home contractors’ fraud, state licensing boards.

All elder abuse can be detrimental to the physical and mental health of older adults. It’s our responsibility to look out for the warning signs of abuse, provide support for caregivers, and check on the older adults in our lives.

What are the effects of elder abuse?

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), older people who have been abused have a 300% higher risk of death when compared to those who have not been mistreated. The estimated cost of elder financial abuse and fraud to Americans is $36.5 billion each year. If you see something, it’s important to contact the proper authorities.

Resources and support

If you suspect elder abuse and the victim needs immediate assistance, dial 911. You can also call 1-800-677-1116 for support or find local resources at the National Center on Elder Abuse. For more information on elder abuse and neglect, see these links: