Do you remember the old Smokey the Bear commercials? They always said, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Taken literally, of course, it’s an absurd statement. You cannot personally be around to prevent all forest fires, and the truth is that you cannot prevent a spark of lightning from starting a forest fire even if you are in the area. However, the commercials made sense and had an impact because there are things that you can do to prevent forest fires. In the same sense, we can say that only you can prevent elder abuse.
Elder abuse is a real and growing problem in the United States. With our aging population has come a growing group of people who seek to take advantage of the frailties and vulnerabilities that often result as people age. It is relatively easy for these abusers to operate because not enough of us pay close enough attention to what is going on with our elderly relatives. We do not regularly visit our elderly family members and make sure that everything is going well with them. That’s often all that it takes to prevent elder abuse: regular visits and making sure our relatives are doing well.
This is especially true when it comes to elder financial abuse. Physical abuse, as reprehensible as it is, is often visible to an observer. But elder financial abuse is not always obvious. The abuser may be a family member or even a caregiver with whom the victim has bonded or on whom the victim has become dependent. Elderly are often alone, have few friends, and are very dependent. Their caregiver may become their best – or only — friend. If they suspect they are being taken advantage of by a caregiver or family member they may be afraid to speak up for fear of what happens to their lives as a result. Or for numerous other reasons.
Vigilance is the key to preventing and detecting elder financial abuse. Because once the money is taken it is usually spent and cannot be recovered even if the victim speaks up. So precautions should be taken to make sure your elderly family and friends are not targets. Frequent contact and visitation, and looking for suspicious developments, are the best ways to find, fight and prevent elder financial abuse.
You cannot prevent all elder abuse, but you can make sure it does not affect your family. I will revisit this topic from time to time and share information on how to identify the signs of elder financial abuse, and the common profiles of today’s victims.