Thursday, June 20, 2024

How 5 types of elder abuse often hide in plain sight

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Each year in the U.S., at least 10% of people age 65 and older experience some form of elder abuse, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Elder abuse is an intentional or negligent act by any person that causes harm, or a serious risk of harm, to an older adult. This type of abuse may not be outwardly obvious because the senior may not be sharing their situation with others. You may actually know someone who needs your help.

Recently, I spoke to a client who is concerned about the living conditions of her lifelong friends, who are in their late 80s. They’re living in a home they bought more than 60 years ago, which has not been maintained. The original roof leaks, and the home has dry rot and termites. Living with the seniors are two large dogs and a cat, all of which relieve themselves indoors.

Their house is full of items gathered over a lifetime. Objects are stacked throughout the home, limiting the senior’s mobility and accessibility to household items. It is impossible for them to cook, wash or bathe. They can hardly care for themselves, receive minimum help from family members, and do not know where to turn.

Their adult family members include one child and three grandchildren. Three of the family members live 20 minutes away.

Additionally, one of the seniors is hooked on buying items on home shopping networks and has accumulated a significant amount of debt.

Despite this, for the past several years they have been giving their only child a couple of thousand dollars a month to help with expenses. As parents of an only child, they placed their child’s interests first. The monthly checks were accepted and cashed.

Because they’re embarrassed by their living conditions, they rarely invite people inside and have slowly withdrawn from society.

These seniors are not unique. Elder abuse can happen to anyone, including family members, friends or neighbors.

The types of elder abuse have five subtypes: physical, psychological, sexual, financial exploitation and neglect and abandonment.

You may notice that your elderly neighbor has oddly placed bruises, broken bones, black eyes and wounds at various stages of healing. The senior may have a sudden change of behavior, and their caregiver may always be present with visitors. This could be a sign that the senior is being physically abused.

Psychological abuse may be more difficult to observe. Someone in the victim’s household may verbally attack, scold or intimidate the senior. They may talk to them as if they are a child or tell them that their opinion is worthless. The abuser may also keep the senior away from their friends, favorite activities or family members. The senior may become withdrawn, agitated or depressed.

Sexual abuse may not be obvious because the predator preys on the senior when they’re alone. Signs of abuse could include bruises around the breasts or genital area, and blood found on clothing or bedding. Unexplained venereal diseases or genital infections may be diagnosed. And changes in the senior’s demeanor, especially when near the offender, may be apparent.

Neglect and abandonment may be a bit more obvious. Have you observed that the senior has stopped being cared for? Do they have food in their home? Do they regularly visit the doctor? Do they bathe or shower? Signs of poor personal hygiene, malnutrition, and untreated health problems are red flags that the senior may be neglected or abandoned.

Financial abuse can be creative, as the criminal’s mind is imaginative. The range of financial abuse is very wide. It can be as simple as someone taking or keeping money without the senior’s permission, to much more elaborate schemes involving bank accounts, credit cards or the deed to their home. Red flags would be bank balances changing quickly, additional names added to the bank account, unpaid bills, and abrupt changes to a will or other financial documents.

If you believe that a senior you know may be abused or neglected, contact the Adult Protective Services hotline. APS is a resource to report suspected elder abuse or neglect. California residents who call 833-401-0832 and enter the 5-digit ZIP code when prompted, will be connected to the APS in their county, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

When a report of abuse, neglect, or exploitation is received, APS’s goal is to create a stable environment where the individual can safely function without requiring ongoing intervention from the APS program. Services provided by APS include responding to reports of known or suspected abuse or neglect, investigating, and arranging for the delivery of services from available community agencies.

APS is not intended to interfere with the lifestyle choices of older adults, nor to protect those individuals from the consequences of their choices.

In the case of my client, during our last conversation, she mentioned her plan to reach out to APS for help with resources for her life-long friends. APS will investigate the home to determine what assistance can be provided to help this family.

It takes a village to raise a child, and a community to care for their elders.

Teri Parker CFP® is a vice president for the Riverside office of CAPTRUST Financial Advisors and has practiced in the field of financial planning and investment management since 2000. Contact her at

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