With the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place orders, behavior that might normally raise red flags for elder abuse could easily be overlooked as normal safety precautions.  Social isolation and distancing an elder from loved ones is a common tactic for individuals perpetrating elder abuse.  If you asked yourself these questions today, the answer to all would likely be yes—

  • Have social habits changed?
  • Are visitors no longer welcome at the elder’s home?
  • Has there been unexplained withdrawal from usual activities and habits?

During this time, one must be especially vigilant in watching for other signs which may indicate the occurrence of abuse as elders have no choice but to become more dependent on others for their daily needs.

Potential indicators of abuse or exploitation:

Lifestyle changes:  Has the elder’s physical appearance declined suddenly without explanation?  Does the elder have adequate amenities at home — power, heat, plumbing, appropriate clothing and grooming items, and caretaker assistance as needed?  Are they missing cash, jewelry, or personal belongings?

Interaction with caregivers or family members:  Is a caregiver or family member not providing the elder the opportunity to speak for himself or herself?  Do caregivers provide conflicting accounts of occurrences?  Does the elder exhibit indifference or anger toward the caregiver or family member?  Does the individual responsible for the elder’s care have problems with substance abuse or gambling? Are new acquaintances or long-lost relatives spending time with the elder and expressing affection for the elder?

Behavioral changes:  Does the elder demonstrate any of these behaviors?  Agitation, anger, anxiety, confusion, disorientation, defensiveness, depression, fearfulness, helplessness, hesitancy to speak openly, making implausible excuses, non-responsiveness, or withdrawal.

Finances:  Are the bills being paid? If not, is someone else controlling the elder’s funds?  Are bills unpaid despite having sufficient funds?  Is the elder giving excessive and unusual gifts?  Is a family member interested in conserving the money that is being spent for of the elder’s care or is a responsible party reluctant or refusing to spend money on the elder’s care?  Does a caretaker have an inappropriate level of interest in the elder’s financial matters?  Is the elder making investments in unsuitable financial products, time shares, or real property, or taking out larger than necessary loans against home equity to finance investments?

Banking:  Does their banking activity show unusually large checks or withdrawals from automated banking machines?  Do the signatures on checks not resemble the elder’s signature?  Did the elder add someone to their signature card?  Are checks written out to “cash” or signed by the elder but filled out by someone else.  Is there a surge of activity in accounts which have been static for years?  Are checks or credit card transactions made out to direct mail or telemarketing promotions, or newly formed religious or non-profit causes?

Legal Documents: Have property transfers occurred that the elder cannot understand or explain?  Did the elder sign legal documents (e.g., Will, Trust, Power of Attorney, Deed) when the elder lacks mental capacity?  Has the elder taken his or her name off property titles?  Did the elder add the name of a caretaker onto real property or financial accounts in exchange for commitments of continued care or affection?  Did the elder make changes to a Will, Trust, or Transfer on Death Deed while under the care of another

Isolation increases the risk for abuse, so staying in touch with your loved one is the first step to preventing financial exploitation and watching for the warning signs. If possible, arrange for the elder to have access to video conferences with family members so that physical changes do not go undetected.

Does the elder have a relationship with a financial advisor?  Some financial institutions allow clients to designate a trusted contact person whom the financial advisor is authorized to contact if they notice suspicious activity. This service may assist in stopping financial exploitation in its early stages.


Next week:  Scams targeting the elderly