Written by: Ann Napoletan who is a passionate Alzheimer’s and dementia advocate, freelance writer and former caregiver to her mother who she lost in 2012. She is also a moderator for the USAgainstAlzheimer’s Community on Facebook.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is believed that over 500,000 older adults are neglected or abused annually. That number is astounding and simply unacceptable but many abusers are pros at covering their tracks.
Abusive situations can go on for months and years unbeknownst to loved ones. The most diligent family care partners can miss red flags, so education and awareness are critical. Remember that even when dealing with high-cost private pay facilities, staying tuned in for signs of neglect and abuse is imperative. Despite their cost and outward appearance, these places aren’t immune to problems.
When my mom was in the early stages of dementia, I learned how common financial exploitation is among the elderly. Shortly after I began helping Mom with her checkbook, I noticed some suspicious activity. A little digging revealed she had been giving “donations” in the form of both cash and checks to a bogus charitable organization for months – or longer. Her donations totaled at least several thousand dollars but of course we had no idea how much cash may have been exchanged.
At the time, I was so naïve; I couldn’t imagine someone exploiting an elderly person. However, a call to the Attorney General’s office quickly enlightened me. These abusers play on the emotions of their victims, as I learned when I approached my mom about my concerns.
To my surprise, Mom adamantly defended her “friend,” saying that I was crazy to be suspicious. She was angry with me and was not shy about letting me know it; the ensuing weeks were unpleasant to say the very least.
From what I could gather, the woman “visited” frequently, talking about the good work her homeless shelter was doing. My mom trusted her and didn’t think twice when she sometimes asked to have checks made out to her personally rather than the organization – or worse yet, to give her cash claiming it would be easier.
Our story is mild compared to the experiences of others, some of whom give away their entire retirement savings before loved ones discover what’s happening. Finances can be an extremely sensitive topic, and it’s tempting to overlook concerns in the interest of keeping the peace. However, that tactic can be very costly.
Here are a few things to watch for:
- Excessive or frequent gifts to an unfamiliar charity.
- Checks written to individuals you don’t know.
- Unusual or suspicious credit card transactions.
- An inordinate number of cash withdrawals.
First and foremost, if something doesn’t feel right, follow your intuition. Whether it’s financial in nature or another form of suspected neglect or abuse, taking action early could save your loved one and many other future victims.
To learn more about elder abuse, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse, or if you suspect abuse, contact your state Attorney General, Adult Protective Services, or nearest long-term care Ombudsman. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Eldercare Locator is also a wonderful resource.You can read more from Ann at The Long and Winding Road: An Alzheimer’s Journey and Beyond
What are your thoughts about elder abuse? f you would like to share your own story, do so here.