Elder financial abuse continues to rise as our population ages, and it’s not a phenomenon limited to Australia. Both the United States and the United Kingdom report an increasing incidence of elder financial abuse. As with any form of abuse, the mental and physical cost is as great as the financial loss.

Elder Financial Abuse: John’s Story

After suffering a stroke about a dozen years ago, John’s short-term memory was greatly diminished, and today John suffers from severe dementia. He currently lives on the east coast of the United States, but his daughter lives in Las Vegas, and she would like to move him to be closer to family “so he would be part of his family’s life, basically, instead of being isolated.”

The family visit John regularly, but can’t afford to relocate him, after hundreds of thousands of dollars John had saved were taken from him by a long-time companion. John depended on her for everything – for advice and to get to his medical appointments, and to help manage his life. At one time, John and the woman had been a couple. Then she started to take utter control of John’s life, including alienating him from family – even convincing him not to get needed medical care. She also became a joint account holder on bank and investment accounts, eventually removing his name from those accounts. The amount of money the long-term companion took from John is estimated at close to $750,000, in addition to an unknown amount of interest and dividends. Now, he has nothing left.

 Most commonly committed by a family member, caregiver or trusted individual, elder financial abuse typically involves taking money, property or other assets – or withholding those – without a person’s permission. It’s particularly common where cognitive decline is present – such as dementia – because perpetrators can take advantage of the older person’s lack of awareness.

Frequently, money that’s been stolen is spent by perpetrators and never recovered by victims.

elder financial abuse, elder abuse, financial abuse, elder lawThe Physical & Mental Cost of Elder Financial Abuse

Financial abuse not only affects a person’s financial situation, but overall well-being. Research finds it can raise a person’s risk of depression, leading people to withdraw and increasing hopelessness. Faced with profound loss, some victims even become suicidal, experts say. Additionally, having money and assets stolen in retirement can make it difficult for some people to afford needed medical care. “When elders lose enough money to have to make choices between paying for out-of-pocket health care costs and routine living expenses, they’re going to go with the latter and forgo the former, which can cause all types of conditions to worsen,” says Dr. Robert Roush, a professor of geriatrics at the Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. That can range from not being able to get needed medicine that isn’t covered by insurance to forgoing treatment due to out-of-pocket costs, or even not going to the dentist or purchasing healthful foods, due to expense.

 A study published in the Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect in January found financial mistreatment, like having money stolen, is associated with a decline in functional health – predicting more difficulties doing activities of daily living, such as dressing or bathing or getting in and out of bed without assistance. The reason for the association is not perfectly clear. But, “a lot of older adults are retired and relying on a fixed income to access care and treatment to sustain their health,” says Jaclyn Wong, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Chicago who led the research. “So perhaps the financial mistreatment is reducing the monetary resources that older adults need in order to maintain their physical well-being.”

For older, frail adults, health can spiral down quickly, particularly if they’re unable to get the care they need, Roush says. “It’s a constellation of things,” he adds of the health effects linked to financial abuse. Many who are abused feel embarrassed or ashamed and withdraw, leaving themselves more vulnerable to re-victimization and myriad other health consequences associated with isolation, from further contributing to depression risk to raising the specter of future heart problems.

Elder Financial Abuse in Queensland

elder financial abuse, elder abuse, financial abuse, elder lawAn annual report of the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit (EAPU) shows that over $14 million was reported as being exploited from Queensland’s seniors in just one financial year. However the EAPU estimates that $97 million is a more realistic figure since most notifiers do not provide a dollar amount. The amount actually reported provides an average amount lost of $242,287 per report of financial abuse.

The actual total dollar amount of financial abuse occurring in Queensland would be considerably higher than $97 million as these are only EAPU figures and services such as private legal firms, Police, Courts, Centrelink, The Office of the Adult Guardian (who investigate the financial exploitation of those with impaired decision making ability), and the free Seniors Legal and Support Service centres throughout Queensland all respond in various ways to the financial abuse of seniors. Of course, a great deal of financial abuse will remain hidden and never come to the attention of any agency. Therefore the total sum of financial abuse occurring in Queensland may never be known.

The World Health Organisation notes that physical injury may be more severe for older people and there are higher rates of depression found in seniors who experience abuse. Mortality rates are also 3 times higher for these victims of abuse. The emotional and sometimes physical trauma suffered by the victim will obviously have cost implications to those health and welfare services that help the older person put their life back together.

At Mitchells Solicitors, we help families who have suffered elder financial abuse. The key is to act quickly so that the financial loss can be reduced. Contact us today for your free, 10-minute phone consultation.