Although this article emanates from the USA, elder abuse is happening worldwide, as well as in facilities for the aged in South Africa, as recently evidenced by exclusive footage in a recent Carte Blanche documentary.
Whether it is physical or financial abuse – if you believe that the rights of an older person that you know are being violated or if you want to help someone who you believe is being abused, neglected or exploited, please see the list of South African organisations listed at the bottom of this article.
Back to the article from the USA:
Recently a woman told me a story about an elder friend who was the victim of financial elder abuse.
The friend, we’ll call Lucy, lived alone, had no family and while frail, was in good mental health. Lucy realized she needed help with daily living and hired a caregiver to assist with meals, bathing and other tasks. The caregiver came with a good recommendation according to Lucy. Initially everything seemed fine, the woman telling me the story related.
Fine, until the caregiver called the friend one day to say that Lucy wanted the pin she had insisted on giving to her friend months before.
The woman went to visit Lucy with the pin in hand more than willing to return it, but surprised at the request. While Lucy appeared to be OK, the woman left feeling something was wrong.
Lucy had told her friend that she had decided she had made a mistake giving her the pin. Something seemed off. The woman left somewhat concerned but not alarmed, she said, until she got a call from the caregiver telling her not to visit any more unless she cleared with her.
Now the friend was alarmed. Something was wrong. She did not know what to do. Unfortunately in the next few weeks, she became extremely ill and did not have the ability to do anything to help her friend. A few weeks later Lucy died leaving the caregiver $500,000.
The woman telling me the story was filled with remorse over not being able to help her friend when she became suspicious. She never suspected physical abuse but was certain the change in the will was financial abuse that went unchallenged.
Sadly the story is not uncommon. Even sadder it turns about that unlike Lucy’s situation, most financial abuse is a result of a family member taking advantage of the elderly for whom they are supposedly caring for.
Statistics reveal that 90% of abusers are family members. Of that number 50% are adult children, 20% are intimate partners. Other abusers include friends, caregivers, neighbours and service providers. As the number of elders swells in the coming years, some fear this number of abused could double in the next 20 years.
While there are no official national statistics because elder abuse remains largely hidden, the American Society on Aging (ASA) reports that for every case reported, an estimated 23.5 are not. The Society reported that elder financial exploration was estimated to be $2.9 billion in 2011, a 12 percent increase over 2008.
Warning signs of abuse include:
• Notice if an older friend or acquaintance seems to be in a problem situation but is reluctant to answer questions.
• Watch for signs of hunger, bruises, change in personality, lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy. Does the person seem unclean or neglected? Follow your gut if you suspect something is wrong.
• Never assume that a family member could not be abusing the elder.
• Know that more than half of older victims are 80 and above. Two-thirds are women. Sixty percent show signs of dementia or confusion and more than 40% show signs of depression.
• The only way to help is to be aware and observant and then tell a friend, family member, neighbour or acquaintance about your concerns. Then call someone who can help.
As people live longer and more require help, the incidence of elder abuse is destined to increase. The ability to protect or even save an older person can be as simple as paying attention and getting involved. Seems to me it is little enough to ask every single person to do and keep in mind, that elderly person suffering abuse could be your or me someday. Imagine if no one paid any attention.
Author: Bonnie D. Kupperman, Executive Editor, My Senior Portal
Relevant South African contact details:
Action on Elder Abuse SA
Tel: 021 426-5255
Halt Elder Abuse Line (HEAL)
Toll-free: 0800 00 30 81
South African Gerontological Association (SAGA)
Tel: (002711) 483 7497
You can also contact The South African Human Rights Commission, Magistrate’s Courts or Equality Courts and Police stations.