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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Elder Abuse - It's Right Under Your Nose

 Sometimes bad things happen right under our noses, and we don’t want to – or can’t – see.  Elder abuse is like that – we can’t – or don’t want to admit that we see it.

June 15th was Elder Abuse Day, a day intended to draw our attention to a problem that is often ignored. The term “elder abuse” is often in the news, but what exactly is elder abuse?

The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.”

Elder abuse is not confined to the poor.  Mickey Rooney, the 90-year-old actor, has accused his 52-year-old stepson of abusing him and taking his money.  He testified before Congress about the growing problem of elder abuse.  

Just last week, I learned of two events which I characterize as elder abuse. 

The daughter of my client, Fred, used the Financial Power of Attorney her father had granted her to transfer almost all of his money into her own bank account.  Before she accomplished this feat, though, she had carefully isolated him from other relatives, friends, and even from me, his attorney.  The assisted living facility (ALF) where he lived was instructed not to allow him to see or talk with a laundry list of people.  In fact, almost everyone he knew was on that list.  The daughter was heard to swear at him, and call him foul and demeaning names.  She neglected to take him to the optometrist and audiologist, with the result that he could not hear or see, and was diagnosed with dementia. 

The other case also involved the caregiver daughter.  She physically abused her mother, and also transferred her mother’s money into her own account.

In both of the cases I described, the elder parent trusted their adult child to care for them in their time of need.  My client, Fred, had only one child, and he hoped and believed he could trust her completely.  He was sure that she had his best interests at heart when she told him that she would help him manage his money and would watch out for all of his healthcare needs.

Fred’s daughter had two documents that she used inappropriately to take advantage of Fred.  She used the fact that she had been named as his agent under an Advance Directive to limit access to her father, and she used a Financial Power of Attorney to transfer all of Fred’s money out of his bank accounts.

What can be done to help elders in these situations?  In Fred’s case, the signs were missed by those around him.  The ALF should have been suspicious of the daughter’s attempts to limit visits and phone calls from friends and relatives.  People in assisted living facilities are presumed to have the capacity to make their own decisions about whom they will visit.  ALF’s should respect the resident’s rights to communicate with whomever they wish, unless the resident has a guardian appointed by a court of law. Here is a link to an article by the State Bar of Georgia on Long-term care residents’ rights:  http://bit.ly/pt9Gjc

Those who witnessed the daughter call him names, could have intervened to ask Fred if he needed help or could have reported the daughter to Adult Protective Services.  Here is a link to the website for DHS:  http://bit.ly/nw3jSw

Sometimes we have to be willing to see things we don’t want to see.


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