December 31, 2011

Elder Financial Abuse Reaching Crisis Levels, Say Researchers

by Levin & Perconti

After working in the area for decades, our Chicago nursing home abuse lawyers know that the problems of Illinois nursing home neglect and abuse remain hidden from much of the public. Community members are aware that some mistreatment occurs at these facilities, but very few truly appreciate the true scope of the problem. Perhaps the single biggest reason why the problem remains hidden is that many of the victims simply never seek out any accountability and their suffering dies with them. Only a fraction of the abuse that actually occurs ever results in legal actions begin taken against the wrongdoers.

Researchers have long been trying to get a better understanding of the actual extent of the problem. Recently, one expert in the area released new information about the scope of at least one form of senior mistreatment: elder financial exploitation. If his numbers prove correct, financial abuse of the elderly is probably the single most common form of elder abuse and represents a national crisis that needs to receive much more attention that it currently does.

As explained in a story in yesterday South Coast Today, one of the nation’s leading geriatricians and social scientists explained that theft and fraud targeting the elderly is an epidemic. He made the claims in combination with the release of new findings which are being considered the first credible scientific report on the extent of this mistreatment. He summarized by declaring, “There are millions and millions of people who are affected, and it is enormous in its scope…If it were a disease, we would probably say it is an epidemic.”

According to his findings, at a bare minimum at least 4.2% of the entire national senior population has been taken advantage of financially. That amounts to over 2.5 million victims. Yet, the team is quick to admit that their number should be considered a baseline, because it likely underreports the problem significantly. Many seniors remain embarrassed to admit that they have been taken advantage of, and so they will hide their situation at all costs—including when asked by researchers. In addition, those seniors who were suffering from cognitive impairments, like dementia and Alzheimer’s, are the most likely to be exploited, but they were not included in this latest survey. Any way you slice it, this problem is widespread. It occurs in nursing homes, assisted-living rooms, conference rooms, and dining room tables. All of us must do our part to identify when a senior might be taken advantage of financially and step-up when the time is right.

The researcher involved in this latest effort is quite experienced in these issues, having worked in similar studies for years. In 1998 he and his team released the groundbreaking finding that seniors who have been neglected or abused have higher mortality rates that those who had not. The increased mortality rates were independent of the consequences of neglect itself. In other words, abused seniors were likely to suffer a wide range of other complications (outside of those directly attributable to the abuse) as a result of their mistreatment. It was yet another strong piece of evidence highlighting the need to devote more time to ensure the proper treatment of our seniors in all contexts, including the stamping out of nursing home abuse and neglect.

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