July 4, 2011   Elder Care

Elder Abuse – It Can Happen to Anyone!

By Richard J. Gregorek, J.D.
As estate planning and elder law attorneys and professionals serving the needs of elders, it is crucial that we stay informed and vigilant in spotting issues where elders and vulnerable adults may be victims of abuse or exploitation. Every practitioner must be familiar with their state’s rules of professional conduct regarding the reporting of abuse to state authorities and law enforcement. In Washington State, attorneys are Per­missive Reporters and may report to the Washington State Adult Protective Services or law enforcement when there is reasonable cause to believe that a vulnerable adult is be­ing or has been abandoned, abused, financially exploited or neglected. Reporters are immune from liability and the reporting or testifying shall not be deemed a violation of any confidential communication privilege. 

Elder abuse is a growing problem in Washington State and across the nation. The problem has flown under the radar until recently. Celebrities such as famed actor/comedian Mickey Rooney, age 90, recently 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 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 usually 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 abuse
 
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.
 
Emotional abuse
 
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 abuse
 
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).
 
Financial exploitation
 
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 to 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 been a member of Wealth­Counsel from its inception. 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 hosts a weekly radio program, Northwest Legal Compass on 1150 AM KKNW. The show airs live at noon every Friday. You may contact Mr. Gregorek at 425- 284-3450, 877-284-3450 or office@RJGLegal.com. To learn more about Estate Planning and Elder Law and other services provided by Gregorek and Associates, visit our website at www.RJGLegal.com.
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