The Rise of Financial Elder Abuse

For many of us, America’s elderly population represents a group of people that we admire and appreciate for the many contributions they have made to their families, their communities, and their country. Unfortunately, older people can also be vulnerable to a variety of forms of neglect, malpractice, and abuse.

In some instances, the elderly suffer medical and physical harm as the result of negligent actions or omissions committed by medical care providers, nursing home personnel, and many others who provide services to the elderly. Perhaps even worse, some individuals intentionally harm older people. And while the abuse can certainly be physical, in recent times there has been a significant increase in financial elder abuse.

Financial elder abuse can occur when family, friends, and third parties, such as those who care for or provide financial services for the elderly, see an opportunity to enrich themselves at an older person’s expense. In this article, we’ll discuss the problem, along with some potential remedies.

Prevalence of Financial Abuse of the Elderly

According to Judith Kozlowski, a consultant to the Elder Justice Initiative of the Department of Justice, financial exploitation of the elderly is the fastest-growing form of elderly abuse in both the United States and the rest of the world. Studies cannot yet clearly quantify the amount of financial elder abuse that occurs. However, one New York study found that for every documented case of financial elder abuse, 44 more went unreported.

A United States Securities and Exchange article cites several interrelated reasons that the problem exists and why it will likely get worse. First, cognitive decline often accompanies aging. The brain’s functioning can decline with age, even without the presence of disease. In fact, financial impairment is one of the first signs of decline often observed by family members and caregivers of the elderly. Thus, the group is a vulnerable target for those with bad intentions.

Social and demographic trends also play a role. First, many older Americans have had much more time to accumulate assets (although the poor are also very vulnerable to financial abuse), making them an attractive target for wrongdoing. Additionally, many employees in the past received defined benefit plans. Now, most workers have defined contribution plans, which leaves older Americans with the responsibility of managing their own funds later in retirement, when their ability to do so may decrease. Finally, the numbers of elderly people around the world are greater than ever before, creating more targets for abusers.

Other Types of Elderly Abuse

Elder abuse can occur in many other ways. Below are common examples:

  • Emotional Elder Abuse – This can include intimidation, isolation, humiliation, and other emotional harm.
  • Neglect – This is an omission, or a failure to provide care. Some neglect is intentional. In other cases, neglect may arise from inadequate training or a failure to meet the applicable standard of care for caregivers.
  • Physical Elder Abuse – This can include physical assaults of the elderly, including sexual assault, as well as the involuntary use of medicine and restraints on a person.

Many instances of elder abuse go unreported. In fact, the U.S. government concluded that nursing homes fail to report approximately 20 percent of possible abuse cases in which residents require emergency room treatment.

The Law Provides Remedies

A variety of legal remedies exist, depending on the type of elder abuse involved. For example, the facts surrounding financial elder abuse may involve theft or intentional misrepresentation. Causes of action for conversion, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, and others may apply. Neglect and other forms of negligence can give rise to a variety of negligence-based theories, including malpractice. Intentional tort actions can be pursued when individuals intentionally harm the elderly.

In all of these instances, elderly victims have the right to sue for money damages.

Call with Questions

There are few things that are more upsetting than to see the abuse and neglect of our elderly citizens. At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, we will fight to protect Oregon’s elderly population by holding accountable those who inflict harm to this vulnerable population. Call us today and one of our experienced elder abuse lawyers will be happy to help.


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