According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of elderly abuse cases in 2010 was almost 6 million, most of whom were women, with 77-78 being the median age of the abused.
Even though seniors are particularly susceptible to abuse and fraud, they can still be reluctant to talk about the incidents, most probably because they are afraid, embarrassed, have no one to contact for help, don’t know what to do or whom to trust. But elder abuse and exploitation do greatly exist and can be hard to recognize since most caregivers can appear to be concerned and caring.
Emotional abuse can cause more psychological damage than physical injuries. Finding the courage to speak up can be difficult since most seniors are ignored – thought to have dementia – or that they don’t know what they are talking about.
The actor, Mickey Rooney, himself, was a victim of elder abuse before his death. He even appeared before the U.S. Senate to discuss his abuse “stripped of the ability to make the most basic decisions about my life, exploited, overwhelmed with fear, anger and disbelief.”
Recently, even in Canada, there were recent news items regarding a 94-year old woman whose family and housekeeper spent her life savings and sold her belongings without her knowledge while she was confined to a small room in her own home. Another man went to a Vancouver hospital, complaining of heart attack or stroke fears, but was put into the psychiatric ward; he was even tackled and restrained by the hospital employees.
Even in Florida, the courts and guardianship system have failed seniors and even caused more harm to the seniors when these appointed “guardians” take control of the individual and assets. Their money was being drained away by people overcharging, while their bodies and spirit are sapped by physical neglect and emotional torment. Doctors in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina were pressured into admission quotas by pushing emergency room staff to increase admissions of patients over 65 years old by color-coding them.
Exploitation is when a person in a position of trust, or in a business relationship with the elderly individual, has obtained his/her money or property by “deception, intimidation or force.” Exploitation is further defined as intentionally depriving an elderly person of his/her assets or property. That person can include relatives, friends, caregivers, trustees who, knowingly by deception, intentionally or negligently, misappropriate the elderly person’s funds or assets. Under Florida law, exploitation of the elderly (defined as being at least 60 years old) is a felony, with different degrees depending on the value of the assets.
Seniors have rights. If you are a senior citizen or know someone who is, remember that a competent older person may refuse all services and interventions. No decisions should be made without his/her involvement and consent. You have a right to be free from mental and physical abuse, to be informed of your medical condition, to select your own physician, to participate in planning for your care, to refuse drugs, medicine or treatment, to voice grievances, to be treated with respect and dignity.
So, stay involved in your life, manage your own affairs, promote independence, be self-determined. Keep up with current news. Read the newspaper. Read books and stories that keep you informed. Be careful. Be alert. Stay active and in control of yourself and your life. Make your own decisions. Read and understand everything before you sign a document. Realize that most people have ulterior and even nefarious intentions. Be skeptical – even of friends and family members. Memorize the telephone numbers of those you really trust – you never know when you will need to make a call for help in a hurry. Listen to your gut if something does not seem right to you. Remember that businesses stay in business because they make money – do you want to give them yours? DON’T GIVE UP!!
Suggested reading is a book by Joe Roubicek entitled “Financial Abuse of the Elderly; A Detective’s Case Files of Exploitation Crimes.” He is currently writing another book called “Kill Mom, Kill Dad; Disposing of the Elderly for Profit.” He states: “Unless there is obvious evidence of foul play, law enforcement, the health care sector, and society in general, have a tendency to believe that the elderly always die of natural causes.”
As a society, we need to raise public awareness, train doctors, attorneys, police, and others to recognize and respond to signs of abuse. It is noted that Canada has appointed a seniors’ advocate – maybe such a position should also be established in the United States.