One in ten older adults experience some form of abuse, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse. This number could be much higher because older adults hesitate to report elder abuse in fear of losing their independence. There is no one definition of elder abuse, but all definitions include physical harm, neglect, and/or financial exploitation to an older adult, often perpetrated by someone in a position of trust. Victims of elder abuse often experience more than one type of abuse.
Elder abuse is a pervasive and costly problem in our communities. It can happen anywhere - at home, in an assisted living facility, at a nursing home. It can happen to anybody. Older adults make good targets, owning assets and having saved their money. Nationwide studies show that financial losses to older adults range from $2.6 billion to $36.5 billion per year, and could be higher due to underreporting. Beyond financial harm, elder abuse research shows that elder abuse increases an older adult’s risk of hospitalization by three times, nursing home admission by four times, and dying by three times!
Who are the abusers? Usually the abuse is done by someone the older adult knows and trusts. Family members, paid or unpaid caregivers, friends, neighbors, fiduciaries (power of attorney, trustees, guardians, conservators), and trusted advisors can become abusers. In fact, most of the time, it is a family member that is the abuser. Sometimes, abusers will not mean to cause abuse, but under the stress of caregiving, they can abuse an older adult by neglecting their care or by causing physical/emotional harm while under the stress of caregiving. Strangers can also finagle their way into an older adult’s life, especially if the older adult is already isolated, further isolate the older adult and harm them and/or take their money or other assets.
We can prevent elder abuse by learning about risk factors for older adults. When an older adult experiences cognitive impairment or psychiatric/psychological problems, dependency on others for ADLs (activities of daily living), isolation (low social support), poor physical health, and/or trauma or past abuse, they have a higher risk of becoming a victim of elder abuse. When people around older adults experience caregiver burden or stress, psychiatric/psychological problems, and family disharmony or dysfunction, they have a higher risk of becoming perpetrators. The more support that an older adult and a caregiver have, elder abuse is less likely to happen.
Once someone has fallen victim to elder abuse, we can help by talking with the older adult; reporting abuse to the proper authorities; taking steps to minimize abuse, such as limiting access to bank accounts, revoking power of attorney and other legal documents that gave power to an abuser (if possible); seeking protective orders; removing the abuser from the older adult’s home with an eviction process; suing the abuser for financial exploitation, or other actions.
In Minnesota, you can report elder abuse to the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center (MAARC) 24 hours a day, seven days at week, toll-free to (844) 880-1574. Calls are confidential.
Senior Legal Line is a legal question and answer line for Seniors.
The column is written by the Senior Citizens’ Law Project. It is not meant to give complete answers to individual questions. If you are 60 years of age or older and live within the Minnesota Arrowhead Region, you may contact the Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota with questions for legal help by writing to: Senior Citizens’ Law Project, Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota, 302 Ordean Bldg., Duluth, MN 55802. Please include a phone number and return address. To view previous articles, go to: www.lasnem.org. Reprints by permission only.