NJ sociologist answers questions about elder abuse

04 Dec 2020 | 02:29

What are the most common types of elder abuse?

The aging population is vulnerable to various types of abuse and neglect. Financial, physical, and psychological/emotional abuses are generally the most prevalent forms. The aging population may experience financial abuse from family members or service providers. In particular, to current aging generations, will rely on the advice of professionals with few questions. Also, the aging population may be more inclined to give family money or tolerate inappropriate care to avoid isolation or alienation from such a family.

Regarding physical and emotional abuse, sometimes family caretakers may intentionally or unintentionally express frustrations towards their loved ones in abusive ways. Being a caretaker is difficult and stressful. Caretakers need positive outlets of support. Emotional and physical abuse can also be at the hands of hired help and/or facility caretakers, so it is good for aging persons to have advocates and/or care coordinators looking out for them. Sadly, but true that aging persons will do better when there is a designated family member to advocate for them and support their needs. Dementia, in one or both spouses, can sometimes lead to frustration and/or a lack of clarity to what is happening in the immediate environment. Dementia can contribute to family dynamics that can create strains between partners/spouses, adult children, or caretakers that may result in various forms of domestic abuse. In married couples where one spouse is deteriorating, there may be hesitation to reach out about what is going on for fear that their spouse may be removed from the family home.

How can policymakers protect the elderly?

There are many variations of abuse among the elderly population. One common challenge is when an aging person is probably not making a good decision for their own well-being. Even when aging individuals go into skilled nursing facilities, documents like the “Bill of Rights” emphasize their autonomy and ability to speak for themselves. While respecting the voice of an aging person is all very good, it can be difficult to intervene when financial abuse or fraud is identified by a professional, but the aging person agrees to it. In such situations, even adult protective services representatives, have a difficult time intervening. Policies that enhance services or interventions available to adult protective services can be helpful. Some examples of interventions may include education and outreach to older adults and families, specifically in the areas of financial education around making a transition to government benefits.

On another note, predatory scams against the aging population can be difficult for aging persons to recognize. Aging persons can sometimes be trusted when the scam sounds believable. Policy support and funding for financial literacy for aging would be beneficial. Family members of the aging population may not always understand how important finances are to planning for the future care of an aging person as well.

Should there be legal restrictions against caregivers financially benefiting from the death of the person he/she was caring for?

While there are many effective social service programs in the United States, they can often fall short when care needs are high leaving many aging persons to rely on family members for care. Many people who care for the aging population are beneficiaries, via wills or intestate, of the aging person’s estate. Increased financial provisions on such arrangements may be more burdensome than helpful for families.

What can families do?

Families and their loved ones can obtain an education to best understand important financial and care planning aspects of working with the aging population. Some key points of advice:

1. Recognize that Social Security/Medicare will not cold call and ask for personal information over the phone.

2. Recognize that investments should be less risky in aging years.

3. Be aware of options along the continuum of housing/direct care and financially plan accordingly.

4. Be aware that families may not always recognize the importance of financial planning and recording keeping in anticipation of government benefits for care.

5. Recognize that managed Medicare programs should be carefully considered as they can sometimes harm obtaining the best care.

6. Participate in helping loved ones get competent financial and care planning advice.

7. Check credit reports annually.

8. Arrange for credit card alerts for transactions above certain amounts

9. Take the time to read contracts and/or understand financial transactions.

What steps can be taken to reduce the risk of elder abuse during the pandemic?

Education and outreach remain key ways to reduce adverse social consequences to the elderly population. 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.