Monday, February 23, 2015

Are Our Aging Parents Sitting Ducks?

I write about healthy aging, and dealing with aging loved ones. full bio →
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

I'm a California girl, born and raised here, with an abiding interest in health issues and particularly, healthy aging. I have always loved working with older people, probably because I had this amazing grandmother. She taught me so much about life, balance, how to be your own person, and how to savor the moment. She was a nurse and inspired me to be one, too. I evolved into a second career, practicing law, representing individuals. Now, I'm in the advice and conflict resolution field, focused on issues about aging and aging parents. This blog is dedicated to you, the one with the aging parent or aging loved one. Maybe it's just about all of us middle aged folks getting older ourselves. My husband, Dr. Mikol Davis, a psychologist, and I put our efforts together at We've got 2, 20-something kids and an 89 year old mother in law. Helping Mom is a big part of our lives. Lots of our friends are going through the same things we are: parents starting to decline in health or alertness, putting time in with all we can do to help out. The stresses affect you, and they affect me, too. I like to discuss these challenges and what you can do to meet them. Feel free to comment!
Contact Carolyn Rosenblatt
The author is a Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Personal Finance 1,867 views

Would You Be Willing To Report A Family Member For Financial Elder Abuse?

It would take some nerve to report an abusive family member to law enforcement. We also know from the National Center on Elder Abuse that most abusers are family members. And they tell us that only 44 out of 1000 instances of abuse are reported to authorities. Why aren’t more cases reported to the very authorities capable of stopping the abusers?
It seems to me that most family members are simply unwilling to “rat out” another family member even when they know that abuse is going on. When it comes to the elders themselves, there is shame and embarrassment with being taken advantage of by someone close, and someone they really trusted, a grown child perhaps. They hesitate. They are fearful. They want to talk about it but not do anything about it. And the reluctance to report the abuse to Adult Protective Services is not limited to the elders who can’t bear to call the authorities about a son, daughter or other relative.

I received a call from a distressed sister,  convinced that her older brother was stealing from their parents. He had total control over their parents, one of whom had dementia.  He had been appointed by his parents as the agent on both the Durable Power of Attorney and the Advance Healthcare Directive.  This gave him the legal authority to make both financial decisions without being accountable to anyone else and all healthcare decisions as well.  I listened patiently to all the reasons she thought her brother was taking her parents’ money and using it for himself.  I asked her if she had called Adult Protective Services.” No”, she said.  When I asked why not she said “I don’t want to get my brother in trouble”.  Where is the logic in that?
In another case, the elder herself had called. “I gave my grandson a big loan and he hasn’t paid it back” she said.  “And now I need the money to live on”.  She described how her favorite grandson had taken title to her mobile home and gotten a loan, even after she had “loaned” him most of her savings.  I explained that her chances of getting paid back were probably not very good, but the least she could do was to report what had happened to authorities. I advised her that taking a “loan” from an 80 year old and not paying it back would likely be considered elder abuse and it should be reported to APS.  ”Would my grandson go to jail?” she asked.  I told her I didn’t know but it can happen when someone has committed this crime of elder abuse.  She said, “I don’t want my grandson to go to jail”.  And I am sure she did not follow up or do anything more about the problem, even though she was at risk for homelessness.
Elders like the 80 year old woman are typical of why elder abuse does not get reported and therefore prosecuted more often, even when a family member is well aware of it and aware that it is wrong.  They would rather suffer impoverishment than be the one to report abuse. In fact, these same victims may refuse to testify against a relative who has abused them, even when these cases are prosecuted.  Charges may not stick when the victim is unwilling to testify, unless there are independent records to prove the case in court.
It is as much a problem of our emotions and fears as it is of the wrongdoing itself. We somehow justify the actions, we look the other way or we fear what the justice system will do to our abusive relative.  We must stop giving thieves a pass.
I ask, where is the anger at a crime against a person who is easily taken advantage of by the abuser?  Where is the advocacy for the vulnerable elder?  Why are we remaining silent so often  in this growing, $2.9 billion dollar a year problem? At I am only one voice. I do what I can to educate, to encourage reporting, and occasionally to report elder abuse myself.  We need more allies.
I would be willing to guess that there is someone reading this who has a financial abuser in the family or knows of a family where this has taken place.  I urge you to speak up.  To my knowledge, you can remain anonymous in your reporting, just as you can with any crime. Most elder abuse hotlines are staffed 24/7.  Whether or not the criminal justice system can prove the crime is not your problem.  It is your problem to know about the abuse and to do nothing.  One day it could be you who is victimized.

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