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Advisors: 9 Ways to Recognize Elder Abuse and Neglect

  • By Ruthann P. Lacey, P.C.
  • |
  • August 23, 2016

The incidence of elder abuse and neglect is on the rise in America. In today’s world, the planning professional must become more familiar with the varied presentations of elder abuse and neglect. Abuse is just the tip of the iceberg and neglect has been widely overlooked.

Mature senior retirees

Neglect is the failure to provide necessary care, assistance, guidance or attention that causes, or is reasonably likely to cause, the person physical, mental or emotional harm or substantial damage to or loss of assets. Do you know what comprises elder abuse and neglect?

Below is a reference list of 9 elder abuse examples:

Physical Abuse is the act of inflicting physical pain or injury upon an older adult. Traditionally this is the abuse that comes first to the mind of the public and professionals – the elder in the Emergency Room with the unexplained bruises.

Emotional or Psychological Abuse is verbal threats or intimidation and is best described as infliction of pain, distress or anguish using either verbal or nonverbal behavior. One example is staff members of a facility recently caught posting images on their Face Book pages of older adults sitting on toilets.

Confinement can be abuse or neglect or both. It is the restraining or isolating of an older adult without their consent. One recent news story focused on 3 older men who were locked in a dilapidated basement of a personal care home. When allowed out of the basement they were chained in the back yard where they were eventually discovered and removed from the facility by authorities. The owner of the personal care home went to prison and had to pay damages to each individual.

Abandonment happens when the caregiver simply walks away from the elder. It isn’t always horrible people that walk away but people like you and me. The probable cause is pressure – lots of it – too much for one person to endure! Working full time – and – taking care of children and grandchildren – and – taking care of a combative aging parent – and – having health issues yourself – and – get the picture.

Passive Neglect is a caregiver’s failure to provide an older adult with necessities, such as, food, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene, medical care, personal safety and just plain basic comfort. This type of neglect may result because of a lack of experience, information, or ability.

Active Neglect is the intentional withholding of basic necessities of life and include monetary or fiduciary neglect denying an older adult medication, medical care, shelter, food, a therapeutic device, or other physical assistance, and exposing that person to the risk of physical, mental, or emotional harm. This may appear innocent at first glance – if you don’t get dressed I won’t give you lunch – and so it begins.

Financial Exploitation could be abuse and neglect and is the misuse or withholding of an older adult’s resources by another. This may be the remainder beneficiaries demand that the assets intended to care for an elder or other person with a disability instead be preserved for their eventual inheritance.

Sexual Abuse involves touching, fondling, intercourse, or any other activity of a sexual nature with an older adult, when the older adult is unable to understand, unwilling to consent, threatened, or physically forced.

And perhaps the most unanticipated form of neglect imaginable:

Neglecting an Elder’s Autonomy through demonstrating a lack of respect of an older individual’s personal rights. This occurs by not allowing visits from people important to the older person, not giving sufficient space for personal privacy including in the bathroom, lack of transportation to necessary appointments, and failure to provide occasional outings to places important to the older individual.

In Conclusion

When you meet with your clients it is important to be able to recognize that elder abuse and neglect take many forms. You must also be aware of the intricate interactions and potential conflicts between the older adult and their caregiver(s).

Don’t let a caregiver over speak and answer for the elder during appointments but be sure that you hear your client’s voice in a secure setting where he doesn’t feel pressured, influenced or intimidated by others.

As professionals you must make sure that you are familiar with the possible types of abuse and neglect, their manifestations and their potential effect on planning options when meeting with at-risk older adults.

Are you just getting by or are you getting better? Get started today!

Author Bio

Ruthann Lacey is an alumna of Trinity College and Emory University School of Law, is licensed to practice law in the State of Georgia and Washington, D.C., and is a Certified Elder Law Attorney. Her practice concentrates on planning for the unique and complex concerns of the elder population, and of children and adults with special needs. Ruthann is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), the Special Needs Alliance, a charter member of the Council of Advanced Practitioners, and a member of the District of Columbia Bar, the Georgia Bar Association, and the Atlanta Bar Association. Ruthann has been selected as a “Super Lawyer” every year since 2006; was named one of the Top 50 Women Attorneys in Georgia in 2007, 2009, and 2010; and was included in the “Georgia Trend” selection of Georgia’s Top Attorneys in 2012, all based on surveys of her peers. Ms. Lacey has an AV rating in Martindale-Hubbell, and was included in the 2013 Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Women Lawyers. Ruthann is past chair of the Elder Law Section of the Georgia Bar, serves on the Continuity of Law Practice Committee of the Georgia Bar, belongs to the Fiduciary Law Section of the Georgia Bar Association, and is a Life Fellow with the Lawyers Foundation of Georgia. She is a member of the Elder Law and Small Firm Sections of the Atlanta Bar Association. Ruthann belongs to the DeKalb Estate Planning Council, is a member of the board of Family Initiative Residences, Inc., and is actively involved with several volunteer and charitable organizations. She is a past Director of the National Elder Law Foundation. Ruthann is an active speaker on the local, state and national levels, to both professional and public groups and organizations. Recent engagements include serving as Program Chair for the fifteenth annual Institute of Continuing Legal Education in Georgia Special Needs Trust program; presenting at the 2015 Missouri NAELA Annual Elder Law Symposium; presenting at the 2015 Georgia Trial Lawyers Association Annual Convention; presenting with the ICLE Webinar Series; presenting at the 8th Annual Utah Elder Law, Estate Planning, and Medicaid Planning 2011 program; presenting at the 9th Annual Utah Elder Law, Estate Planning, and Medicaid Planning 2012 program; presenting at the Stetson University 2011 Special Needs Trusts - The National Conference; serving as a guest Professor of Law at John Marshall Law School; serving on the faculty of Southern Trust School; presenting at the NAELA Symposium and at NAELA Fundamentals Day; facilitating at the NAELA Advanced Practitioner’s Program; presenting to the Alabama Bar Institute for Continuing Legal Education; the Tennessee Bar Association; Medicaid Irrevocable Qualified Income Trust Training; The Coca-Cola Company; the Financial Planning Association; the Cobb County Bar Association Elder Law Section; Emory University's Senior University; Delta Employees Credit Union; the People’s Law School; the Atlanta Bar Association’s Legal Eagles CLE Series; the Atlanta Special Needs Trust Discussion Group; Georgia State University; the Joint Conference on Law and Aging; the Georgia Chapter of the Huntington’s Disease Society; Church groups; Civic groups; Alzheimer’s Support Groups; and AARP Chapters. She also has been an Instructor of Estates, Trusts and Wills and Legal Research at the National Center for Paralegal Training, has drafted Elder Law legislation for submission to the Georgia General Assembly, and is an editor and published writer. Among other accomplishments, Ruthann has been published in the Georgia Bar Journal, Family Law Quarterly (a publication of the American Bar Association), Georgia Probate Notes, Exceptional Parent, Money Matters, Inside Money, Senior News, and NAELA News, edited the Medicaid chapters in A Will is Not Enough in Georgia, contributed to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Long-Term Care Planning, and The CPA’s Guide to Long-Term Care Planning, has appeared as a guest on the Clark Howard Show, the Layman’s Lawyer, Money Matters, Inside Money, People to People, Professional Review, and Atlanta Issues, has been mentioned in Consumers Digest, has been cited in Elder Care and Nursing Home Litigation in Georgia, and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Atlanta Journal - Constitution, The Family Connection, and the American Bar Association Journal.