How many movies have you seen in which a young man or woman pursues a relationship with an older individual in order to gain money, status, or just better their own well-being? Conflicts occur. Problems are solved. Hilarity ensues. While Hollywood often embellishes this exploitation with comedy, the reality of these situations is much darker. Exploitation is just one manifestation of Elder Abuse.
A common misconception about any form of abuse is that it only happens on a physical level. Bedsores, bruises, and broken bones are often signs of neglect or physical harm, but Elder Abuse can take many forms: mental or emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, personal exploitation, undue influence, neglect and improper restraint. Abuse is especially prevalent in situations where an older adult is cognitively impaired, or lonely. Caregivers, family members, and even acquaintances may take advantage of this impairment or isolation by exploiting these adults financially, coercing them to alter their estate planning documents, or further isolating them from others. No one wants to believe a family member or designated caregiver could be capable of causing harm, emotional distress, or financial hardship to a loved one, but those closest to the elderly person are often the root of abuse issues.
On the other hand, some elderly adults are no longer able to fully care for their own basic and day-to-day needs. Self-neglect is an often overlooked area of Elder Abuse. Nevertheless, it can result in a mismanaged finances, dangerous living conditions, poor health, and risky medical situations. Situations involving self-neglect are often precarious, as the adult in question views asking for or receiving assistance as a loss of independence. Small gestures, conversation and involvement can help to ease an elderly person into accepting much needed assistance. While court intervention to remove a vulnerable adult from their home is an option, it should always be a last resort.
June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, the purpose of which is to promote a better understanding of what constitutes abuse and neglect of elderly persons. If you are aware of an elder being taken advantage of or neglected, please reach out and contact someone. Here at Reed Longyear, we have Elder Law specialists who have worked for years to protect and meet the needs of vulnerable adults. Feel free to contact us or access some of the resources below if someone you know is seeking assistance. In any situation where danger or harm is imminent, please call 911 before contacting individuals or public services.
National Center on Elder Abuse
Washington State Adult Protective Services