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California reportedly has worst elder abuse protections

Credit: Photo by Sydney Sims

The current coronavirus pandemic is troublesome for spouses who experience domestic violence and children who also suffer from abuse at home. Additionally, elder abuse is on the rise.

According to a report collected by WalletHub, 13 out of 14 abuse cases of the elderly go unreported. Women, seniors with disabilities, and those who are in the care of others are mostly at risk. About 10 percent of the population over 60 are being affected by abuse, both those elderly living alone at home and those living in senior care facilities.

Of all 50 states, California ranked 49th, regarding elderly-abuse protection. In comparison, Massachusetts ranked first with a score of 58.55. Followed by Wisconsin at second, Vermont at rank #3, and Michigan at fourth. The worst state for elderly-abuse protection is New Jersey, which ranked at #51.

Despite the surveys, there are ways to protect the elderly from abuse, especially in senior homes. WalletHub asked a few specialists on how to protect senior citizens from abuse, and what the most common types of abuse are.

“Elder abuse can be challenging to study since it often goes unreported. Perpetrators may be family members or caregivers and victims may be unable to advocate for themselves,” said Dr. Fred E. Markowitz of the Department of Sociology at the Northern Illinois University. “The most common types of elder abuse include verbal and emotional abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. Elderly persons are, however, at a significantly lower risk of violent crime, such as assaults, robberies, and rapes.

“There is a certain paradox in elder abuse in that family and other close associates are the main sources of protection yet are also most likely to be the perpetrators of abuse,” Markowitz said.

Aside from verbal and mental abuse, financial exploitation is one of the bigger issues.

“It is dramatically under-reported because the most common perpetrators of financial exploitation are individuals appointed under Durable Power of Attorney, which are often family members,” Attorney for Elder and Adult Mediator Debra K. Schuster of Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal, P.C. said. “Since family members are often caregivers for their loved ones and are asked by their loved one to care for them, I believe placing such prohibitions on inheritance or payment for such caregiving would unnecessarily interfere with an already stressful situation.

“Requiring that paid family caregivers have written contracts that specify services to be provided and have a third party review the services rendered and payments made on a regular – i.e., quarterly basis – would provide a check and balance system,” Schuster added. “So long as a family caregiver is designated to receive an inheritance by the elder receiving care before the provision of care – i.e., before the caregiving relationship and certainly before any incapacity/disability -, and there is no indication of undue influence, this is likely what most families would want. Private caregiving companies are expensive, often unreliable, and engage in theft, abuse, neglect and financial exploitation as well, so there is no perfect answer.”

To ensure senior family members are being protected from financial abuse, Schuster suggests to insure that Durable Power of Attorney mentions family members as financial authorities who are;

• Detail-oriented

• Responsible, as well as financially secured

• Do not need to “borrow” money for themselves in the near future

According to a report by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers propose that elder abuse in the form of financial scams and financial exploitation, as well as family violence – including neglect – has increased in the past year.

“This is a very difficult issue because with increased isolation and the need to protect elders from potential exposure to the virus due to the likelihood of comorbidities, financial scams from third parties have absolutely increased,” Schuster added. “Again, having a trust-worthy family member check account statements and review mail received by the elder to reduce the possibility of identity theft; freezing the credit of an elder during this pandemic and hiring a care manager to do weekly checks can help reduce the incidence of abuse and financial exploitation.”

Since the first lockdown started in March 2020, several senior centers, adult day care and outpatient programs have closed due to the pandemic, forcing family members to take in another person. Tight spaces and financial distress can add fuel to the  already heated situation and can escalate into violence towards the elderly.

Therefore family members responsible for taking care of the elderly, who are diagnosed with dementia or other medical conditions, should be receiving financial help, as well as counseling on how to take care of an elder.

“Education and outreach remain key ways to reduce adverse social consequences to the elderly population,” Dr. Jennifer A. Pax, an assistant professor of the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at New Jersey City University told WalletHub. “Many aging persons may be eligible for home care services and/or psychological therapy. These services can be via telehealth or live following Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.

“Professionals such as social workers can not only provide clinical support but are excellent professionals in connecting people with additional resources. In general, during the COVID-19 pandemic, abuse is more prevalent across the lifespan because of less access to environmental supports.”