Many older Americans hope to spend their golden years enjoying some of the finer things in life, like seeing more of their family. But, for some, growing older means exploitation at the hands of the very individuals charged with their care. In New Jersey, the number of reported cases of elder abuse nearly doubled from 1996 to 1999, far outpacing the increase in the elderly population during the same time period. Now, since the economic downtown, social service agencies and others in the field of elder care are again reporting a spike in elder abuse, particularly at the hands of adult children who have moved back in with their aging parents. While some form of elder abuse prevention and reporting laws are on the books in all 50 states, abuse often goes unreported, in part due to medical conditions that make reporting difficult and lack of information regarding possible solutions. However, with the proper assistance, elder abuse does not have to remain an unmentioned and unsolvable dilemma.
Elder Abuse Committed By Family Members
As elders grow more physically frail, they become less able to stand up to exploitation by family members. In addition, mental or physical ailments often make older people easier targets, and may make them more frustrating companions for the people who live with them (and thus easier to justify as victims). Elder abuse can take many forms, including physical or sexual abuse, psychological abuse (such as name-calling or making threats), exploitation (misuse or theft of an elder's money or property) and simple neglect. In a national study conducted in 1996, known perpetrators of elder abuse and neglect were family members in 90 percent of cases, and two-thirds were adult children or spouses.
Some experts see the quickly rising percentages of elder exploitation in New Jersey as a function of the economy. Since the start of the recession, the number of elder abuse cases has continued to climb; the state Department of Health and Senior Services reported 2,249 cases of elder abuse, neglect or exploitation in New Jersey in 2007 and 2,492 such cases in 2008, with the state on track to have even higher numbers when it completes its tallies for 2009. U.S. Census data show that the number of children between the ages of 18 and 34 who are living with their parents has steadily increased over the past five years. A surprising amount of elder abuse takes place in the home, and when cash-strapped children return home in an effort to solve their own financial woes, the temptation to take advantage of an aging parent may present itself. In some cases, adult children have gone so far as to sell their parents' home, spend money that should have been used to pay for nursing care and even eat their parents' food rations.
What to Do If You or Someone You Know Has Been Abused
First and foremost, if you are being abused or have been abused, tell someone. Your county's Adult Protective Services program of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services is a great resource, but telling a doctor, friend or trusted family member could also get you on the path to the help you need. Being a victim of abuse or exploitation may be embarrassing, and it is often a difficult problem to confront. But remember, it is not your fault. Telling someone who can help is the first step in ensuring you receive the care and dignity you deserve.
If you are an elderly individual who has been taken advantage of, it is important to contact an attorney. An attorney experienced in elder abuse matters can be instrumental in helping you recover stolen funds or may assist you in obtaining compensation for injuries suffered at the hands of abusive family members. A lawyer can also help you establish legal mechanisms to secure your financial assets from future breaches by family members and help ensure that you receive proper care, protection from those who have done you harm and compensation for the abuses you have suffered.
Being abused or exploited, especially by those closest to you, is a difficult challenge to overcome. But, it is a challenge you do not have to face alone. Consult with an attorney who will advocate on your behalf, help you get back on your feet and give you a voice.