Exploitation escapes exposure — Part of the problem with elder exploitation is that such a small percentage of incidents come to the attention of authorities – about one in 14, according to the National Research Council’s estimate, and an even smaller percentage according to other studies. Elders can be reluctant to report abuse and neglect because they lack the physical or cognitive capacity to do so, they fear retaliation, or they don’t want to get a family member in trouble.
One in ten? A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Public Health estimated that one in ten Americans over 60 experiences abuse of some kind every year. A study the same year published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reported that nearly half of study participants having dementia had been mistreated by those responsible for their care.
What you don’t know will hurt them – Estate planning, trust, elder law and general practice attorneys often don’t know when their elderly clients are being abused and exploited. Unless those circumstances are the specific reasons for meeting, there is an unstated “don’t ask, don’t tell” atmosphere between the elderly client and the attorney. This is especially true when the family member attending with the elderly person is the bad actor/predator, and does all the talking for the elder family member.
Three billion dollars a year, to the crooks — A 2011 study by the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, Virginia Tech and the Metlife Mature Market Institute estimates a loss of nearly $3 billion a year by elderly victims of financial exploitation. Professionals serving the elderly include those within the finance, insurance, and banking industries. With their primary objective being to sell products and services focused on management and investment of the money held by elders, many overlook signs of abuse and exploitation of their clients. They believe it is not their “job” to inquire about the elder’s health, or diligently look into the elder’s recent family history to detect problems.
How many elders? How many caregivers? — The Census Bureau reports over 41 million people age 65 or older, rising to 70 million by 2030. The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that one in eight Americans over 65 – and nearly half of those over 85 — has some degree of dementia. With the aging of the population, the demand for caregivers has been increasing, as well. According to the National Alliance For Caregiving, there are 66 million unpaid family caregivers – about one in three adults — with one in three households having at least one person who has been a caregiver within the past year. Caregivers average about 19 hours a week attending to a loved one.
Caregiving takes a toll — Caring for elderly loved ones takes a toll on those providing the care. The Metlife Mature Market Institute estimates that health care costs for family caregivers are eight percent higher than for the adult population as a whole, and 23 percent of caregivers rate their health as “fair or poor” after five years of caring for a loved one. According to the most recent study by the National Alliance For Caregiving, 70 percent of caregivers report that their responsibilities have had some kind of adverse impact on their careers. Meanwhile, medical, health care, financial and legal professionals serving elderly clients rarely communicate with each other regarding the same client. They tend to function myopically within their narrowly framed professional tasks, and none of those tasks is expanded to focus on the immediate family members saddled with the “36-hour” day that deteriorates their own quality of life.
The casual discrimination of ageism – When individuals have white hair (or none), wrinkled faces, vision and hearing loss, and difficulty walking and talking, those who don’t have those issues can be quick to assume the elders’ mental skills have diminished as well. (Just look at the greeting cards for birthdays over 50!) Even the professionals serving elders can be quick to make these assumptions…assumptions that are discriminatory, and often mistaken. And just because an elder might have to live in a nursing home or assisted living facility, that doesn’t mean he or she loses the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
When dementia really is an issue, is too late to act by the time you see the problem? No. Even elders with moderately diminished mental function may still be able to execute advance directives including wills, financial and health-care powers of attorney, and living wills.