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Protecting a Parent from Elder Abuse

WEAADEvery year an estimated 5 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation. And that’s only part of the picture: Experts believe that for every case of elder abuse or neglect reported, as many as 23 cases go unreported. This post is to honor June 15, 2016, which is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

While likely under-reported, elder financial abuse costs older Americans $2.9 billion per year (National Council on Aging).  When my parents started to slow down and I noticed they were a little more forgetful, my siblings and I went on high-alert.

Thankfully, when mom signed a contract with two different firms to repair a small hole in their gutter, one for $5,200 and one $1,200 for the same repairs, she called my sister sensing she needed help and we were able to step in and cancel the contracts. It was a major warning signal that someone could take advantage of our parents.

For the 34.2 million Americans providing unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older (Caregiving in the US – AARP 2015 Report) in addition to helping with their care needs, if someone is not helping with the finances, it’s important to be vigilant because of the growing threat of elder abuse. You can download a free white paper designed for caregivers to help you understand and organize the important documents you will need.

Some elder abuse is subtle. I watched as my parents started to send checks to a wide-variety of new charities they had not previously supported. Then I started to see new magazine subscriptions to publications they would never read. These were smaller, more incremental solicitations that played on my parent’s beliefs and forgetfulness. Within a year, both parents were diagnosed with different forms of dementia.

Many adult children struggle to help mom and dad, but there are a few ways families can work together to ensure their parent’s don’t fall victim to a scam.If you are starting to see new spending habits, three things you can do:

  • Offer to help in small ways to support your parent. The fear that a child will take away car keys or put them in a “home” are very real, so make sure they know you will just be stepping in to work side-by-side until they can manage again on their own. For more on this see last weeks blog on the concept of being a “care partner”.
  • Meet with an estate or elder care attorney if you do not have a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) or Healthcare Directives in place. You will need these to be an effective advocate for your parents(s) and doing this now will be invaluable should a parent’s health decline.
  • Contact Adult Protective Services (APS) if you have evidence of fraud. While there is little they may be able to do, they should be able to direct you if there is evidence of financial abuse. Before you pursue this option, I hope you will check with an elder care attorney.

The two ways my parents became super subscribers and diligent donors was from phone solicitations and incoming mail. Many of us have heard about the phone scams, but you can’t discount the mail as a potential threat to your parents. Many charities and publications thoughtfully word their solicitations using language that allows the reader to believe they have already pledged money as well as been subscribers. It’s incredibly effective. Warned. 

For a checklist you can share, here is a list of scams produced by the Department of Health & Human Services.

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