JANUARY 20, 1997 VOLUME 4, NUMBER 29
Last week in Phoenix, the Maricopa Elder Abuse Prevention Alliance hosted a two-day seminar on prevention of abuse, neglect and exploitation of the elderly. Speakers ranged from nationally-known advocacy leaders to local social service and legal practitioners.
Jeff Calvert, coordinator of the Alliance, listed some of the warning signs of abuse, distinguishing between physical signs (burns, bruises, decubiti, malnutrition, etc.) and behavioral signs. Calvert noted that many behavioral conditions may exist in elders not subjected to abuse, but that they may also indicate something is amiss. His list included:
- Agitation, anxiety
- Hesitation to talk openly
- Implausible stories
Donna M. Reulbach, director of a Massachusetts program to prevent financial exploitation by involving bank tellers and officers, described her agency’s efforts with banks. She also listed some of the indicators that financial professionals can use to recognize exploitation. The elder customer may be:
- accompanied by a stranger who urges large cash withdrawals
- in the company of family members who appear to speak for the elder and make all decisions
- nervous or afraid of the person accompanying them
- giving implausible explanations about financial matters
- unable to remember transactions
- fearful that they will be evicted (or sued) if money is not given to a caregiver
- isolated from family or supports (or isolated from family other than the relative accompanying them to the bank)
Lori Stiegel, Associate Staff Director of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly, described national trends in prevention and punishment of abuse, neglect and exploitation. She noted that Arizona’s recent inclusion of “emotional abuse” in its criminal statute, coupled with the broad definition of “vulnerable adults” as the group entitled to special protection, made Arizona one of the more progressive states in dealing with problems of abuse, neglect and exploitation.
Phoenix prosecutors Terri Clarke and Pamela Svoboda, together with Phoenix Police Lieutenant Ken Tims, described the goals of and problems encountered by a concerted program to prosecute abusers. Their most notable concern: the difficult in prosecuting cases where the victim may be incapacitated, ill, or deceased, or may now be denying any abuse took place. They noted that abused elder women may commonly suffer from low self-esteem, come from traditionalist backgrounds, demonstrate “learned helplessness” and see their own role as keeping the peace between the abuser and the rest of the family (or society).
Phoenix Doctor Walter J. Nieri noted that many instances of abuse and neglect (as well as some examples of financial exploitation) come from long-term care settings. While nursing homes are closely regulated, and the possibility of undetected abuse is consequently lower, adult care homes are much more numerous and subjected to less state monitoring. He also pointed out that much abuse and neglect can be traced to caregiver stress, and provided a checklist for assessment of the level of stress in individual cases.
Susan Aziz and Chayo Reyes described the Los Angeles Fiduciary Abuse Specialist Team, a multi-agency task force established to combat the “crime of the nineties:” elder financial abuse. The three-year-old program involves Police, Public Guardian, Adult Protective Service and Probate Court representatives, among others. The Team conducts training sessions and focuses on fiduciary abuse.