A topic that seems rarely to be addressed by the media, but which has serious consequences, is elder abuse. Caring for frail older people is a very difficult and stress-provoking task. This is particularly true when older people are mentally or physically impaired, when the caregiver is ill-prepared for the task, or when the needed resources are lacking. Under these circumstances, the increased stress and frustration of a caregiver may lead to abuse or neglect. More than two-thirds of elder abuse perpetrators are family members of the victims, typically serving in a caregiving role.
There are many forms of elder abuse. Passive Neglect is an unintentional failure to fulfill a caretaking obligation, or infliction of distress without conscious or willful intent. Psychological Abuse is infliction of mental anguish by name-calling, insulting, ignoring, humiliating, frightening, threatening, isolating, etc. Material/Financial Abuse is the illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property, or assets. Examples include but are not limited to cashing an elderly person’s checks without permission; forging an older person’s signature; misusing or stealing an older person’s money or possessions; coercing or deceiving an older person into signing any document (e.g., contracts or will); and the improper use of conservatorship, guardianship, or power of attorney. Active Neglect is intentional failure to fulfill caregiving obligations; infliction of physical or emotional stress or injury; abandonment; denial of food, medication, personal hygiene, etc. Physical Abuse is infliction of physical pain or injury of any type for any reason.
To help prevent physical abuse:
Stay sociable as you age; maintain a network of friends. Develop a “buddy” system with a friend outside the home. Plan for at least a weekly contact and share openly with a person. Ask friends to visit you at home; even a brief visit can allow observations of your well-being. Accept new opportunities for activities. Participate in community activities as you are able. Volunteer or become a member or officer of an organization. Have your own telephone. Post and open your own mail. Keep your belongings orderly, making sure others are aware that you know where everything is kept. Take care of your personal needs. Keep regular medical, dental, barber, hairdresser, and other personal appointments.
To help prevent financial abuse:
Arrange to have your Social Security or pension check deposited directly to a bank account. Get legal advice about arrangements you can make now for possible future disability, including powers-of-attorney, guardianships, etc. Keep records, accounts, and property available for examination by someone you trust, as well as the person you or the court has designated to manage your affairs. Review your will periodically. Don’t give up control of your property or assets without consulting with an attorney. Ask for help when you need it. Discuss your plans with your attorney, physician, or trusted family members. Don’t accept personal care in return for transfer or assignments of your property or assets unless a lawyer, advocate, or another trusted person acts as a witness to the transaction. Don’t allow anyone else to keep details of your finances or property management from you. Don’t sign a document unless an attorney or someone you trust has reviewed it.
Jeffery J. McKenna is a local attorney serving clients in Nevada, Arizona and Utah. He is a shareholder at the law firm of Barney McKenna & Olmstead, PC, with offices in Mesquite and St. George. If you have questions you would like addressed in these articles, you can contact him at (435) 628-1711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.