There is little question that as we age, we become more at-risk for scams and abuse. Seniors, especially those who are dependent upon other people, are socially isolated or have limited mobility, are too often the victims of both financial exploitation and abuse.
The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization has launched World Elder Abuse Awareness Day set for June 15.
According to the National Council on Aging, one out of 10 seniors older than 60 has been the victim of abuse. Approximately 60 percent of senior abuse and neglect cases are perpetrated by a family member.
Loved ones should be diligent about protecting vulnerable seniors and can watch for warning signs of abuse.
Abuse or neglect can come from family members, caregivers or even strangers who have interacted with the senior. The issues generally can be broken down into three major categories: abuse, exploitation and neglect.
Be aware of the warning signs of abuse. Abuse may be physical, emotional or verbal. Seniors who are the victims of physical abuse might have broken bones, bruises or burns. Signs of emotional abuse include depression, isolation from everyone except the abuser or a sudden withdrawal from activities. Caregivers, or those in positions of control over the senior, may belittle the senior or use threats to manipulate the senior.
While victims of abuse are nearly always victimized by a close family member or caregiver, financial exploitation can be perpetrated by anyone. Signs of financial exploitation are not always clear.
Seniors may be fearful of being arrested if they have received a call threatening imprisonment if payment is not given to clear up a (fictitious) citation or debt. Seniors who suddenly are befriended by strangers easily can be manipulated into purchasing unnecessary services or simply giving large amounts of money to unworthy causes.
In many cases, seniors are exploited by family members who move in with the senior and simply use the senior’s income as if it is their own.
Finally, seniors who have limited physical mobility or who have cognitive decline are at risk of neglect. Neglect can be unintentional if a caregiver has unrealistic expectations of his or her own abilities. Seniors may have the best of intentions in continuing to care for a spouse, although he or she is physically unable to do so.
Neglect also may be intentional. Some caregivers capable of providing a high level of care simply do not. The senior is at risk for bed sores, poor hygiene, untreated medical needs, malnourishment and increased physical and mental impairments. Neglect even can include social isolation, resulting in depression.
There are several ways to protect yourself as a senior.
First, keep close ties with people you trust. Be willing to talk to loved ones about your own care and about your finances.
Second, never give personal information over the phone unless you are the one who initiates the phone call and you know with whom you are speaking. If someone asks for money over the phone to release a debt, to win a contest or to avoid going to jail, it is most likely a scam. If you are unsure, call a trusted loved one or local law enforcement to find out.
If you are concerned about abuse, exploitation or neglect of a loved one, call law enforcement and request a Welfare check or you can contact Adult Protective Services and request an investigation.
Take some time on June 15 to check in with vulnerable loved ones. Keep an open line of communication and watch for the warning signs. Seniors can best protect themselves and others by maintaining strong social connections.