Elder Abuse - It can happen to you!
by Richard J. Gregorek, Attorney and Counselor at Law
Elder abuse is a growing problem in Washington and across the nation. The problem has flown under the radar until recently. Celebrities such as famed actor/comedian Mickey Rooney, age 90, gave tearful testimony to Congress of his exploitation. Mr. Rooney stated "I felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated." As with Mr. Rooney, most abuse of elders, some 66% comes at the hands of close family members. The American Psychological Association estimates that 2.1 million older Americans become victims somewhere on the spectrum of abuse. Abuse cuts across all socioeconomic groups, races, religions and cultures according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.
Older adults may become vulnerable due to isolation, physical or mental disabilities and dependence on others for assistance. This vulnerability makes them easy targets for physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect, financial exploitation and fraud. Abuse always occurs when there are no witnesses.
Elderly victims are often reluctant to report abuse because they feel ashamed, embarrassed, humiliated, afraid, and may even defend the abuser.
Victims frequently rely on the abuser for some type of caregiving services at home and are afraid if the abuse is reported they will be placed in a nursing home. Some victims are actually able to convince themselves that they deserve the abuse or exploitation.
Awareness of elder abuse and early reporting are critical components of curbing this disturbing trend.
Types of elder abuse
Abuse of elders and vulnerable adults takes many different forms, some involving intimidation or threats against the elderly, some involving neglect, and others involving financial chicanery. The most common are defined below.
Physical elder abuse is non-accidental use of force against an elderly person that results in physical pain, injury, or impairment. Such abuse includes not only physical assaults such as hitting or shoving but the inappropriate use of drugs, restraints, or confinement.
In emotional or psychological senior abuse, people speak to or treat elderly persons in ways that cause emotional pain or distress.
Verbal forms of emotional elder abuse include:
- intimidation through yelling or threats
- humiliation and ridicule
- habitual blaming or scapegoating
Nonverbal psychological elder abuse can take the form of:
- ignoring the elderly person
- isolating an elder from friends or activities
- terrorizing or menacing the elderly person
Sexual elder abuse is contact with an elderly person without the elder's consent. Such contact can involve physical sex acts, but activities such as showing an elderly person pornographic material, forcing the person to watch sex acts, or forcing the elder to undress are also considered sexual elder abuse.
Neglect or abandonment by caregivers
Elder neglect, failure to fulfill a caretaking obligation, constitutes more than half of all reported cases of elder abuse. It can be active (intentional) or passive (unintentional, based on factors such as ignorance or denial that an elderly charge needs as much care as he or she does).
This involves unauthorized use of an elderly person's funds or property, either by a family member, caregiver or scam artist, collectively the abuser.
An unscrupulous abuser might:
- misuse an elder's personal checks, credit cards, or accounts
- steal cash, income checks, or household goods
- forge the elder's signature
- engage in identity theft
- encourage or facilitate the elder to change their will and powers of attorney
Typical Scams that target elders include:
- Announcements of a "prize" that the elderly person has won but must pay money to claim
- Phony charities
- Investment fraud
Healthcare fraud and abuse
Carried out by unethical doctors, nurses, hospital personnel, and other professional care providers, examples of healthcare fraud and abuse regarding elders include:
- Not providing healthcare, but charging for it
- Overcharging or double-billing for medical care or services
- Getting kickbacks for referrals for other providers or for prescribing certain drugs
- Over-medicating or under-medicating
- Recommending fraudulent remedies for illnesses or other medical conditions
- Medicaid fraud
About the Author: Richard J. (Rick) Gregorek is an attorney licensed to practice in Washington and Oregon. He has an established practice in estate planning and elder law. He often states "I've practiced elder law long before it became popular." He and his law firm, Gregorek and Associates, PLLC, serves the needs of the elderly and defends their rights and provides legal solutions to prevent or identify elder abuse early. Rick speaks to the public as well as professional groups on the subject of Elder Abuse and has also given joint presentations with Washington State Attorney General, Rob McKenna. Rick host a weekly radio program, Northwest Legal Compass on 1150 AM KKNW. The show airs live at noon (PST) every Friday.