June 4, 2019

Elder Abuse and Red Flags

Holland & Knight Private Wealth Services Blog
Stacie Polashuk Nelson

With the aging population and signs that elder abuse is on the rise, it seems that now is a time to provide a reminder of some red flags that could alert you to the suffering of your client. Elder abuse comes in many forms – physical abuse, neglect, abandonment, isolation, abduction, emotional abuse and financial abuse.

While it seems that the definition of physical abuse is obvious, there are subtle ways an abuser can physically harm an elder including causing anxiety, an increase in blood pressure and disrupting sleep. So remember to ask your client, when they are alone, how they are really feeling and if they are getting proper sleep.

Emotional abuse is one of the most insidious forms of abuse and is often accompanied with financial abuse. Some common examples are threats of moving the elder from his or her home, calling them names, isolating them and telling them lies about family and friends the elder formerly trusted. An elder will often refer to feeling disrespected when they are suffering this type of abuse.

Financial abuse can take many forms including outright theft, being added to an account, being named the pay-on-death beneficiary of an account, having the elder's estate planning documents changed to favor the abuser.

So when you are speaking with your client, be sure to asking probing questions to see if anything triggers your senses. In addition to the above, here are some additional red flags:

  • the inability to speak with the client alone
  • the client mentions signing papers or being taken to an attorney
  • the senior has changed the person he or she used to rely on and trust
  • changes in living conditions or routines
  • changes in spending habits
  • changes in appearance or personal hygiene
  • and of course, physical injuries

While your client's comments, appearance or actions may raise some of the above red flags, remember that you must examine everything in the context of the senior's life. For example, if you see significant charges for an extravagant vacation that could be normal and harmless. If your client used to take extravagant vacations and now the price has doubled – is that because she still wants to take those vacations but now needs a caregiver to accompany her or is it because the caregiver and her boyfriend are going on those vacations now.

These, of course, are just examples of red flags. If you have concerns and your ethical duties allow or mandate that you report, please do so.

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