In a recent article by the Associated Press, a Lake Oswego, Oregon woman suffering from dementia was robbed by her only living relative. The niece, who had access to her aunt’s finances, stole $350,000 from her–money that was supposed to be used for her aunt’s assisted-living facility payments. The niece used the money to purchase a Mercedes-Benz. However, by the time the police investigation had only just started, the aunt had died. These and other similar cases are what elder abuse investigators, law enforcement, attorneys, and social service workers face on a regular basis.
Fighting an Uphill Battle
The people who go after those who financially abuse and who commit other types of elder abuse against their aging relatives, fight a daily uphill battle. In many cases, they can are not able to make a prosecution on a given case because of a variety of factors. For every case of elder abuse, there are five unreported incidences that older people are simply quietly abused. Why does this happen? An older person may die before the case is concluded, or has even been brought to the attention of the authorities. Older abuse victims may have cognitive impairment that keeps them from knowing of the abuse, or if they know of the abuse they may not want to report it because it will mean a family member will get in trouble, or they are afraid that they themselves will suffer retaliation from the accused.
Steve Hawks investigates elder abuse in Clatsop County as an adult protective service worker. According to him, he “can’t remove an adult from a home under any circumstance. Sometimes I would like to, but I can’t. It’s their choice.” While child protective services can make the decision to remove a child from an abusive or unsafe home situation, older adults can chose whether or not to stay or to press charges. If their cognitive ability is impaired, that decision is handed down to their conservator or guardian, the person who very well may be inflicting the psychological, physical, or financial abuse.
Elder Abuse on the Rise
This February, a Georgia woman was charged with a seven-year prison sentence for leaving her 83-year-old mother malnourished and uncleaned with maggots and insects literally crawling over her body, according to the Savannah Daily News. Accounts such as this are only increasing as the population ages and relatives have neither the resources nor the humanity to care for their aging family members. In Oregon, the number of elder abuse cases reported increased by 8,000 from 2013 to 2014 (going from 30,000 to 38,000). The most useful thing that we can all do to stop elder abuse from continuing to occur is to notice signs of self neglect such as the older person failing to bathe, dress appropriately, or by generally looking disheveled. Reports from other family members, friends, and neighbors can lead to the arrest and prosecution of those that are causing the abuse. Contact an experienced elder abuse attorney today if you suspect a loved one is suffering from elder abuse.
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