How to Fight Back Against Elder Care Abuse

There’s a Netflix movie out right now called I Care a Lot. It stars Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones, Rosamund Pike of Gone Girl, and Diane West from many hits like The Birdcage, Footloose, and Edward Scissorhands.

It tells the story of a woman who built a successful company and great wealth on lies… Unfortunately, companies like the one depicted in the film actually exist.

Companies such as these prey on older individuals for the sole purpose of stealing their assets through something called legal guardianship.

These companies – if you can call them that – partner with doctors to declare people unfit to make their own decisions. It would get a judge to legally give full control of the victim’s decision-making power to a court-appointed guardian within the company.

This “guardian” then rehomes the elder individual and creates trumped-up charges for services, effectively absorbing the individual’s assets.

There are plenty of stories of people who have been victimized by this practice. These individuals have their lives destroyed simply because they are vulnerable. They may drain all of their remaining assets trying to regain control of their own lives.

Which brings us to the topic of the day… elder abuse.

It’s a reality many of us might face…

You may have a parent in assisted living. You may be contemplating it for you or a spouse… It’s a difficult topic already, let alone having to contemplate real harm being done intentionally.

As you make plans for living out the rest of your life, we want to make sure you are protected. Heck, you may already be living in a community with people who plan on staying put for the remainder of their days.

Let’s face it, none of us are getting any younger. And as we age, we become more vulnerable… the perfect target for predators. I’m sure you can think of plenty of horror stories from people you know being taken advantage of. Especially with the Internet, it’s easy to become a target.

If you are as concerned as we are about finding a loving and safe place for the elders in your life, please, please be aware of these sorts of things…

Elder abuse is defined by the World Health Organization as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.”

Elder abuse is considered a human rights violation and can come in many forms: physical, sexual, psychological, financial, and emotional.

It’s a very real problem, and many of our most cherished family members (including ourselves) end up suffering in silence. In fact, one in six people over the age of 60 has experienced some form of abuse in a community setting over the past year.

And this is only a small picture of the problem because just one in 24 cases of elder abuse is actually reported… This can be due to shame or fear of retaliation or abandonment. Some people even blame themselves for the abuse they’re receiving.

I’m going to give you some tools to help you identify a problem – if one exists – and what to do about it.

Signs and Symptoms of Elder Abuse

Depending on the type of abuse that is occurring, the signals can vary. Some indicators include:

  • Bruises, cuts, dislocations, or broken bones
  • Malnourishment, dehydration, or weight loss
  • Unsuitable clothing for the weather
  • Unsanitary living conditions like poor hygiene or dirty clothing
  • Untreated physical problems, like bed sores
  • Anxiety, depression, or confusion
  • Unexplained transactions or loss of money or valuables
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • A report of drug overdose or refusal to take medications
  • Broken eyeglasses or frames
  • Behavior that mimics dementia, such as rocking, sucking the thumb, or mumbling to themselves
  • Controlling, belittling, or threatening caregiver behavior 

Recourse and Developing an Action Plan

Taking action immediately is your best chance to protect your loved ones or yourself. Even if you’re not 100% certain there’s a problem, don’t waste time doubting your observations and gut feelings. Get those being victimized out of their toxic environment and somewhere safe.

Create another environment where you or your loved one can be properly cared for and has a chance to thrive. This may be in the home of a family member or in a better facility. Cut ties immediately with the abuser.

Then the issue must be reported. It’s not wise to confront the abuser yourself because they may decide to take it out on your loved one. Also, this situation calls for strength in numbers. Getting other family members involved can be helpful in quelling shame for you or your loved one and convincing them to leave the abusive situation.

When reporting abuse, the more information you provide, the better. Use before and after photos to document any physical abuse or change in weight. Provide evidence of any banking discrepancies or missing household items. Take a look through the facility’s records and see if anything looks amiss. Get the police involved if you have to.

When you report abuse, you end up helping others in the process. It’s highly likely that you or your loved one is not the abuser’s only victim.

You can report suspected abuse to the local Adult Protective Services (“APS”) office. Each county should have a local chapter that can be found on the Department of Social Services website. You can also file a report with the Office of Health Care Quality. If reporting to both, let both offices know that you have filed two reports.

A report should also be made with the state’s Medicaid office if you or your loved one uses Medicaid insurance.

What Can I Do?

If you have any concerns, report them to a supervisor. Also, if this is happening to a loved one, visit them often. Ask them how things are going during some one-on-one time. Bring meals and meet the staff.

My stepmother did this for my dad as he was aging in assisted living. Twice a week, she brought him meals. She used to be a nurse, so she had a good idea of what to look for. She very quickly and easily picked up on who was being treated well and who was not receiving good care.

Protect yourself and your parents, as they protected you when you were small and vulnerable. You do not have to act alone in this process. If this has happened to you, we would love to hear about it and how you handled the situation. Send us an e-mail to [email protected].

What We’re Interneting…

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
August 10, 2021