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June 22, 2013

From the Office: Elder abuse can take on many different forms

Seniors are often cautioned to protect themselves from scams devised and perpetrated by strangers. However, in reality, elders are much more vulnerable to abuse from people that they trust, such as family and caregivers. It is called elder abuse.

Elder abuse happens every day ,and it takes many forms. Most people probably think of physical abuse perpetrated by a caregiver. However, abuse also comes in mental, emotional or verbal abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and financial abuse. Abuse can be committed by anyone with access to the elder including family, friends, or staff of assisted living or nursing homes.

Homebound elders are particularly vulnerable to abuse and neglect. Neglect occurs when a caregiver ignores or withholds basic care for a senior, which can include food, water, medication, required medical equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers or oxygen, or access to medical professionals and treatment. Frequently, the elder is also isolated from other family or friends.

Statistics show that much of the physical abuse and neglect suffered by elders at the hands of family members arises from caregivers who report being overwhelmed, but there is no acceptable reason for abuse of any kind. Caregivers should seek out respite assistance from other family members, religious organizations or social services organizations to help deal with stress.

Financial abuse is particularly common. In some instances, the elder may have named a family member or trusted friend as his or her agent in a power of attorney. If the agent abuses his or her authority, a power of attorney can be revoked. Elders can seek the assistance of a lawyer to help revoke a power of attorney and execute a new power of attorney naming a different family member or friend.

Financial abuse can also occur through coercive or criminal behavior. This happens when a family member or caregiver pressures the elder into giving money to the perpetrator or paying bills on behalf of the perpetrator. Perpetrators may believe that payments such as these are gifts. However, when a senior feels that he or she has no choice but to go along with a perpetrator’s demands, it is not a gift, it is abuse. Perpetrators may also pose as an elder and use the elder’s private information, such as a Social Security number, birth date or bank account number, to take out credit cards, shop online or drain bank accounts. This act of impersonation is, among other things, identity theft, and it is a crime.

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