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Robert S. Duxstad
Daniel P. Bestul
Lance A. McNaughton

Elder Abuse Awareness: Protecting Green County’s Senior Citizens

Posted: 8.07.2013  |  Author: 

Most of us have read news articles on child abuse and understand that it can happen anywhere, even in our own neighborhood in seemingly “good” homes. However, it probably wouldn't occur to many people that their elderly neighbor may be vulnerable as well and could be abused or neglected. In fact, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, between one to two million vulnerable adults are abused or neglected in our country every year.


Why are the elderly vulnerable to abuse?


The United States is an aging nation. People over 85 are the fastest growing segment of the population. As elders become more physically frail, they’re less able to stand up to bullying, manipulation, and force. They may not see or hear as well or think as clearly as they used to, leaving openings for unscrupulous people to take advantage of them. Mental or physical ailments may make them more trying companions for the people who live with them. Perhaps this is why that segment has been said to be the most vulnerable to abuse and neglect. The abuse can be financial, physical, emotional or sexual, and can also include neglect. The number of abuse victims has been rising steadily over the past decade, and, sadly, the rise is expected to continue.


Sometimes issues, like neglect, can be the result of a caregiver who is not trained to provide adequate care or doesn't know where to turn for assistance. Other times neglect occurs because family members misuse the senior’s funds on themselves or refuse to spend the senior’s funds on his or her care so that the family member will inherit more after the senior dies. Both scenarios put the elderly individual in a dangerous environment and need to be stopped.


What can we do to help?


The first thing we can do is to educate ourselves. Learn to recognize some of the signs of elder abuse and neglect. While some of the warning signs are what you might expect (bruises, broken bones, and burns) others are much more subtle: poor hygiene, unusual weight loss, unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, or a change in financial situation.


The majority of abuse occurs where the elderly adult lives, generally their home. Tragically, that means that the abuse or neglect is often perpetrated by people known to the individual, similar to other forms of domestic violence. Often the individual won’t report the abuse or neglect because they are unable or ashamed. Seniors who have been emotionally abused may question their ability to manage their own lives, their memory of events, and can even feel they are unable to live on their own without their abuser. In the case of financial exploitation, the elderly individual may not even realize someone has taken advantage of them. An unscrupulous advisor could blame the market to justify the significant losses, despite conservative investments being more appropriate for an elderly client. Many times a lack of reporting comes down to the fact that no one wants to believe that someone they care about would take advantage of them.


Those are the warning signs and issues, but what can we do to prevent elder abuse in the first place? Make an effort to get to know your elderly neighbor. Call or visit an elderly loved one. Provide a respite break for a caregiver. Volunteer to be a visitor at a nursing home.


Who should I call if I suspect Elder Abuse?


If you suspect that someone you know may be the victim of abuse or neglect contact your local reporting agency (or 9-1-1 if it’s an emergency). In Green and Lafayette Counties it is the local Human Services Department.


If you feel someone has suffered either physical harm or financial losses due to elder abuse, you should also contact an attorney to discuss possible legal remedies.


Where can I get more information?


For more information on Elder Abuse: warning signs, prevention, and advocacy see the National Center on Elder Abuse and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Both agencies have many free resources available to further educate us on Elder Abuse and how to prevent it.


Duxstad & Bestul is a Wisconsin Estate Planning law firm practicing primarily in Green and Lafayette Counties.


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