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Protecting Against Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is a serious threat facing many older people and those who love and care for them. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, neglect and emotional abuse are the most common forms of abuse, but 40% of cases involve some form of financial exploitation. Such actions can be devastating for the victim, but also for the rest of the family.

Unfortunately, elder abuse has been on the rise and is expected to become more prevalent with our aging population.

Women, people over the age of 80, and people who live alone or in care facilities are targeted the most. Perpetrators many times suffer from mental illness or substance abuse problems or tend to be financially dependent upon the victim somehow.[i] In fact, it is estimated that two-thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses of the victim, adding to the complexity of the situation. Unfortunately, it is estimated that 84% of elder abuse cases go unreported.[ii] Pride about keeping family matters private and fear of consequences are key reasons victims do not report incidents.

The most essential step to protecting yourself is to make sure your legal and financial affairs are in order. Establishing power of attorney and medical directives while you are fully capable will ensure your wishes are carried out later and also provide your attorney-in-fact the authority to protect you from others.

When protecting loves ones, it is important to recognize the signals of abuse. Look for changes in the elder’s personality or behavior. And, be aware that frequent arguments or tension between the caregiver and the elderly person is a symptom something is wrong. When caring for an aging parent, it is helpful to get all children involved to ensure checks and balances. In addition, it alleviates the pressure put on the primary caretaker.

Safeguarding your loved ones against financial exploitation can be difficult, if the proper legal arrangements are not in place. But, keeping an eye on the following signs will help:

  • Significant withdrawals from the elder’s accounts

  • Items or cash missing from the senior’s household

  • Suspicious changes in wills, power of attorney, titles, and policies

  • Addition of names to the senior’s signature card

  • Unpaid bills or lack of medical care, although elder has enough money to pay for them

  • Financial activity the senior couldn't have done, such as an ATM withdrawal when the account holder is bedridden

  • Unnecessary services, goods, or subscriptions

If you suspect elder abuse, follow this link to get more information. For questions or comments about this article, contact our office at 515-284-1011 or

[i]National Center on Elder Abuse

[ii] Source: Journal of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys

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