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Is Elder Financial Abuse the Crime of the 21st Century?

According to Fred Joseph, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, “Elder financial abuse is becoming the crime of the 21st century’’. He was quoted in a Washington Post article that focused on the link between the growing recession in the U.S. and the increase in elder financial abuse. Though there may be debate about if elder financial abuse is the ‘crime of the century’, there is no doubt that it is a burgeoning crisis in the U.S. This video from the California Attorney General’s Office is a good introduction to the issue – and how to help prevent elder financial abuse.

As we’ve written about, WITNESS and the National Council on Aging have partnered to address a silent crisis in America: elder abuse. This summer and fall, dozens of video stories and testimonies about elder abuse, some from the estimated annual five million victims of elder abuse, are being gathered and shared to help break the silence and pass the Elder Justice Act, pending legislation that will provide holistic support to help detect, prosecute and prevent elder abuse.

Elder abuse can take many forms (which you can learn more about here and here), one of which is the financial abuse of seniors – the illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property or assets. Examples range from the financial abuse my colleague Kelly’s grandmother endured when she was swindled by a door-to-door salesman (read thief) to a family member signing checks from their elder’s account without permission.

Though underreported, the annual loss is estimated to be at least $2.6 billion, according to a recent report (pdf) from MetLife Mature Market Institute, produced in conjunction with the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and Virginia Tech University. It goes on to state that the typical victim of elder abuse is a woman over 75 who lives alone and the “increased aging population, social changes, and technology advances will lead to a dramatic increase in the opportunity for a growing level of elder abuse”.

Groups around the country are working to highlight the urgency of elder financial abuse – particularly during these tough economic times – and helping to provide services to victims and their families. Below, please find a few resources that may be of assistance.

The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse has a very good financial abuse section.

The Elder Financial Protection Network works to prevent financial abuse and has a section on elder financial abuse and a great petition to help pass the Elder Justice Act – add your signature!

To report elder abuse you can call 800.677.1116 or visit the National Center on Elder Abuse to find a local office; and Adult Protective Services– is always a great resource!

Learn More About Elder Abuse

A background on the elder justice now campaign

FAQ about elder abuse

What the Elder Justice Act is and will do

WITNESS’ Partner: NCOA

Take Action Now!

Help Raise Awareness About Elder Justice

Share Your Story to Help Break the Silence

Sign-up for WITNESS’ Newsletter to Keep Informed and to Take Action

Watch Elder Justice-Related Videos

WATCH the campaign video: Break the Silence – Elder Abuse in America

WITNESS Blog: Spotlight on Elder Abuse Videos for Change

Elder Abuse-Related Videos on the Hub

Break the Silence: Elder Abuse in America [Video]

There is a silent crisis that effects every community in America: Elder abuse. Each year an estimated 5 million of America’s older adults are beaten, ignored or financially exploited. Yet, as a country, we remain silent about this growing crisis.

To begin to address this problem, Congress has an immediate opportunity to pass federal legislation that will provide a foundation from which we can begin to protect our country’s elders — the Elder Justice Act. But we cannot do this without your help. Please help us break the silence by adding your voice to the national campaign and urge Congress to pass the Elder Justice Act now!

3 Things You Can DO

More Information on the Elder Justice Act and the campaign to get it passed

What the Elder Justice Act is, and why it matters

June 17, 2009 1 comment

The Elder Justice Act (S. 795 / H.R. 2006) creates a combined law enforcement and public health approach to study, detect, treat, prosecute and, most importantly, prevent elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.  After 25 years of congressional hearings on elder abuse without a legislative response, the Elder Justice Act marks the beginning of new horizons in the detection and prevention of elder abuse.

The Elder Justice Act would:

  • Bring elder justice the national attention it needs and deserves.
  • Improve the quality, quantity and accessibility of information about elder abuse.
  • Provide training to combat elder abuse, neglect and exploitation and develop larger forensic capacity and increase prosecution.
  • Increase funding for adult protective services across the country and also provide for victim assistance, “safe havens,” and support for at-risk elders.

Why is this law needed?

  • The number of older Americans is fast growing, and so is the problem of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
  • Support is needed for state and community efforts and those who work on the front lines to prevent, fight and prosecute elder abuse
  • Currently, there are scarce resources and fragmented systems devoted to elder justice across the country.
  • There is inadequate public-private infrastructure and resources to prevent, detect, treat, understand, intervene in and, where appropriate, prosecute elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
  • Elder justice is the right of every older person to be free of abuse, neglect and exploitation.

What would the Act do?
The Elder Justice Act would provide federal resources to support State and community efforts to fight elder abuse.
The Elder Justice Act would promote both aspects of elder justice with the following provisions:

  • Bring elder justice the national attention it needs and deserves.
  • Improve the quality, quantity and accessibility of information about elder abuse.
  • Increase security, collaboration, and consumer information on Long-Term Care.
  • Develop larger forensic capacity and increase prosecution.
  • Provide victim assistance, “safe havens,” and support for at-risk elders.
  • Provide training to combat elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
  • Include special programs to support underserved populations including rural, minority and Indian seniors.
  • Increase knowledge and support promising projects and study model state laws and practices.
  • Ensure evaluation of “what works” and accountability for funds spent.

For more information and resources, please visit the Elder Justice Coalition’s website.

Elder Abuse: Frequently Asked Questions

What is elder abuse?
What are the warning signs of elder abuse?
What makes an older adult vulnerable to abuse?
Who are the abusers of older adults?
Are there criminal penalties for the abusers?
How many people are suffering from elder abuse?
How does a person make an elder abuse report?
How can elder abuse be prevented?

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What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse includes physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect, and abandonment. Perpetrators include children, other family members, and spouses – as well as staff at nursing homes and assisted living and other facilities.

  • Physical abuse means inflicting physical pain or injury upon an older adult.
  • Sexual abuse means touching, fondling, intercourse or any other sexual activity with an older adult, when the older adult is unable to understand, unwilling to consent, threatened or physically forced.
  • Emotional abuse means verbal assaults, threats of abuse, harassment or intimidation.
  • Confinement means restraining or isolating an older adult, other than for medical reasons.
  • Passive neglect is a caregiver’s failure to provide an older adult with life’s necessities, including, but not limited to, food, clothing, shelter or medical care.
  • Willful deprivation means denying an older adult medication, medical care, shelter, food, a therapeutic device or other physical assistance, and exposing that person to the risk of physical, mental or emotional harm — except when the older, competent adult has expressed a desire to go without such care.
  • Financial exploitation means the misuse or withholding of an older adult’s resources by another.

What are the warning signs of elder abuse?

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect or mistreatment.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats and other uses of power and control by individuals are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and older adult are also signs of emotional abuse. top >>

What makes an older adult vulnerable to abuse?

Social isolation and mental impairment (such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease) are two factors that may make an older adult more vulnerable to abuse. But, in some situations, studies show that living with someone else (a caregiver or a friend) may increase the chances for abuse to occur. A history of domestic violence may also make an older adult more susceptible to abuse. top >>

Who are the abusers of older adults?

Abusers of older adults are both women and men. Family members are more often the abusers than any other group. Data show that adult children were the most common abusers. top >>

Are there criminal penalties for the abusers?

Most states have penalties for those who victimize older adults. Increasingly, across the country, law enforcement officers and prosecutors are trained on elder abuse and ways to use criminal and civil laws to bring abusers to justice. top >>

How many people are suffering from elder abuse?

While it’s estimated that as many as 5 million may suffer some form of elder abuse, it’s difficult to say how many older Americans are abused, neglected or exploited, in large part because surveillance is limited and the problem remains greatly hidden. top >>

How does a person make an elder abuse report?

Anyone who suspects that an older adult is being mistreated should contact an adult protective services office; you can find those offices listed at http://www.apsnetwork.org or through the National Center on Elder Abuse at http://www.ncea.aoa.gov or by calling 800.677.1116. top >>

How can elder abuse be prevented?

Educating seniors, professionals, caregivers and the public on abuse is critical to prevention. On an individual level keeping safe includes:

  • Take care of your health.
  • Seek professional help for drug, alcohol and depression concerns, and urge family members to get help for these problems.
  • Attend support groups for spouses and learn about domestic violence services.
  • Plan for your own future. With a power of attorney or a living will, health care decisions can be addressed to avoid confusion and family problems in advance. Seek independent advice from someone you trust before signing any documents.
  • Stay active in the community and connected with friends and family. This will decrease social isolation, which has been connected to elder abuse.
  • Post and open your own mail.
  • Don’t give personal information over the phone.
  • Use direct deposit for all checks.
  • Have your own phone.
  • Review your will periodically.
  • Know your rights. If you engage the services of a paid or family caregiver, you have the right to voice your preferences and concerns. If you live in a nursing home, call your Long Term Care Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is your advocate and has the power to intervene. top >>

About Us

Two leading advocacy organizations – the National Council on Aging and WITNESS – are working with the Elder Justice Coalition and hundreds of advocates across the country to ensure passage of the Elder Justice Act.

Both organizations share core values related to dignity and social justice. NCOA and WITNESS are collecting hundreds of video stories about elder abuse. They will share them with members of Congress, the media and online as a way of bringing more attention to this long neglected issue.

NCOA is an advocacy and service organization located in Washington, DC. Its mission is to improve the lives of older Americans. NCOA is a national voice for older adults – especially those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged — and the community organizations that serve them. It brings together non-profit organizations, businesses and government to develop creative solutions that improve the lives of all older adults. And, NCOA works with thousands of organizations across the country to help seniors live independently, find jobs and benefits, improve their health, live independently and remain active in their communities.

WITNESS is an international human rights organization that uses video and online technologies to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations. WITNESS empowers people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change. For the past 15 years, WITNESS has worked in collaboration with over 250 organizations in over 80 countries throughout the world, reaching thousands of activists and human rights defenders worldwide. Its U.S. offices are in New York City.

Elder Justice Advocates in 10 states are working with NCOA and WITNESS on passage of the Elder Justice Act.

The Elder Justice Coalition is a coalition of 755 groups that are united in seeking passage of the Elder Justice Act.

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June 15: World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Monday, June 15, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which works to recognize elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue and raise awareness to put an end to the abuse and neglect of older persons. The day is sponsored by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA), and it asks you to show your support by attending or hosting an event on Monday – as well as by wearing the color purple.

WITNESS is partnered with the National Council on Aging to help break the silence on elder abuse in the United States – and urge Congress to pass the Elder Justice Act. On this day of World Elder Abuse Awareness, I wanted to feature some of the best elder abuse-related videos we’ve found so far (if you know of others, please share them with us!).
First up is a very powerful 30-second elder abuse public service announcement out of Ontario, Canada. There are very few videos out there on elder abuse from North America (outside of lawyers trying to get clients), but I believe this one could be replicated and reused in many societies.

Age Demands Action is a video from Help Age International that features actions to raise awareness and call for accountability of elder abuse in 35 countries on October 1, 2008. I think it is a good video to highlight an elder justice campaign by, for and on behalf of older persons.

This video from Age Concern of New Zealand is a good intro to what elder abuse is and how people need to act to deal with it. It focuses on respect and the video serves as a training resource examines what ‘respect’ means and includes case studies that show how a lack of respect can lead to elder abuse and neglect.

This video is of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel testifying before the House Judiciary Committee about the Elder Justice Act in 2008 as the House Democratic Caucus Chairman.

Special thanks to Masha Medvedkov, a fantastic WITNESS intern, for her research for and assistance with this post, which was originally posted on the WITNESS Hub.