All too often the roots of elder abuse are to be found in a senior being dependent either emotionally or physically on the alleged abuser. Whether it is a home care attendant, the handyman, a child or loved one, there is very often an existing relationship of one kind or another with the alleged abuser.
In my observation, one of the most common reasons why seniors are victimized is the fact that many seniors do not have regular and consistent contact with loved ones. Because we no longer have nuclear families, it is not unusual for parents and children to live hundreds, if not thousands of miles apart — thus giving rise to the opportunity for someone to take advantage of a senior. When I inquire of a complaining child or family member as to how often they see their parent, grandparent or loved one; the answer most often is “a handful of times per year.”
Consistent contact with the senior, including regular phone calls and visits, is of utmost importance. Having a close enough relationship to be able to identify changes in their behavior and cognitive abilities is critical to being able to identify both the potential for abuse and the commission thereof.
For example, one would not know that a home care aid or service provider to the senior is committing financial abuse if there are lengthy lapses of time between visits or calls with the senior.
If a senior has been diagnosed with dementia or the loved one has observed cognitive decline in the senior, it is advisable for the loved one to be in a position to monitor the bank and financial activities of the senior. This can be accomplished with the senior agreeing to this, or if the senior has approved the loved one as his or her agent under a durable power of attorney or, as the final option, by becoming the court-appointed legal guardian, thus placing the loved one in the position to handle the senior’s financial affairs.
It is also not unusual for family members to be in denial about the signs of cognitive decline by attributing the loss of memory and mental acuity to being common to old age. However, these signals shouldn’t be trivialized and in fact should be the impetus for taking affirmative action to ensure that the senior is being properly taken care of, both physically and emotionally, and is not left vulnerable to abuse.
Another common occurrence is that a family member will often ignore the signs of potential financial abuse. For example, the child learns that the parent has made a gift to his or her paid caretaker, but the parent provides many reasons to justify the making of the gift. If a child or loved one learns of this, he or she should immediately advise the caretaker’s employer that this occurred and monitor this as a potential problem.
All too often the circumstantial evidence and signs of financial, physical and emotional abuse are readily apparent, but ignored by the senior’s friends and family. If one becomes concerned that the senior is being abused there are a number of steps one can immediately take.
Confront both the senior and abuser about the alleged abuse.
Contact the senior’s loved ones and friends about the abuse.
Contact Adult Protective Services.
Contact your local district attorney’s office.
Contact an attorney who is experienced in guardianship proceedings and review the option of commencing a guardianship proceeding for the senior.
When financial abuse is present, it is possible to obtain a temporary restraining order as part of a guardianship proceeding to freeze the accounts of the senior to prevent the alleged abuser from having ongoing access to the funds.
Elder abuse is a growing problem. As people are living longer, their frailties become ripe targets for those seeking to take advantage of them.
Attorney Anthony J. Enea is the managing member of Enea, Scanlan & Sirignano LLP, with offices in White Plains and Somers. He is a past chair of the New York State Bar Association’s Elder Law Section. He can be reached at 914-948-1500 or A.Enea@esslawfirm.com.