Elder Abuse Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
I have prepared the following list of frequently asked questions I receive when addressing audiences about Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation in New Jersey. I hope you will find my answers informational.
Elder abuse is an explosive problem. There is an understanding about why abuse occurs but not how to stop its spread. There is help available for victims. If you are concerned about abuse you can spot the warning signs of a possible problem and make a call for help if an elder needs assistance.
Elder Abuse Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is elder abuse?
That’s a broad question with many sub-parts. Generally, elder abuse refers to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. While elder abuse laws vary from state to state, in New Jersey abuse is:
- Physical Abuse – Inflicting, or threatening to inflict, physical pain or injury on a vulnerable elder, or depriving them of a basic need.
- Neglect – Refusal or failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care or protection for a vulnerable elder.
- Exploitation – Illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a vulnerable elder.
- Emotional Abuse – Inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts.
- Sexual Abuse – Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
- Abandonment – The desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
Elder abuse affects people of all ethnic and social backgrounds. It strikes both men and women, though on average more women are the subjects of elder abuse.
2. What are the warning signs of elder abuse?
Some tell-tale signs that elder abuse may be taking place include:
- Obviously, bruises, uncommon locations for broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment.
- Sudden or unexplained withdrawal from customary and long-term activities and behaviors. A sudden change in attention span and alertness. Unexplained depression can indicate emotional abuse.
- Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
- Depletion of funds from bank and savings accounts, stocks, bonds and changes in finances will almost always be the result of financial exploitation, absent significant long-term care costs.
- Bedsores, unattended medical needs, and unusual weight loss are indicators of neglect.
- Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver, siblings and elderly persons are also signs. The stress of caregiving takes a significant toll on both parties.
Stay alert. The elderly often suffer in silence. If you notice changes in personality or behavior, you should start to question what is going on or call Fredrick P. Niemann toll free at (855) 376-5291 for a low cost and confidential consultation. See The Basics for more information.
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3. What are the signs of financial abuse & exploitation?
Financial Exploitation can be damaging on many levels of relationships. The existence of Financial Exploitation can sometimes be easily noticed in cases where the person has worked and saved their entire lives while maintaining a frugal lifestyle yet somehow is barely able to afford their day to day needs. Other signs can include:
- Misrepresentation: The person signs documents without fully knowing their purpose (this can be intentional or unintentional);
- Unusual Withdraws: Often it will be noticed that large sums of money are either withdrawn or “lost” from an elderly person’s bank accounts;
- Relinquish Ownership: The elderly person may sign over their home and/or other valuable property unknowingly;
- The Caretaker is Evasive about finances: Many times, it can be found when the caretaker is either evasive about financial matters or they are only focused on them. Does the caretaker only seem to ask questions or care about the elder patient’s financial matters and not so much about the patient and his/her needs? This could be your biggest sign;
Of course, not every transaction, withdraw, action, means financial exploitation. However, when speaking in terms of an elderly person who is vulnerable to those around them these signs should not be ignored.
4. What is self-neglect and what are the signs?
Sometimes the elderly neglects their own needs and self-care, which can lead to illness and/or injury. Self-neglect includes behavior that involves:
- Refusal or unintentional failure to take their essential daily medications or medical treatment for a serious illness
- Leaving a stove unattended which results in smoke, fire and attendant burning
- Poor hygiene which causes odors, rashes and illness
- Wearing unsuitable clothing for the weather conditions and season of the year
- Confusion and forgetfulness of generally routine matters
- Inability to attend to housekeeping
Self-neglect represents a significant number of cases reported to adult protective services. Oftentimes, it is declining health, isolation, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, drug and alcohol dependency which brings about the self-neglect issue.
Support for our elderly is available in the community which will allow them to continue living on their own. Some conditions like depression and malnutrition may be successfully treated through medical intervention.
5. Are there ways to protect against these kinds of abuse?
There are several ways you can protect your loved one from Elder Abuse and/or Financial Exploitation. Once the abuse has started you time is only against you and your options are limited. There are a few measures you can take ahead of time to help prevent the abuse from happening in the first place. They can include:
- Using Direct Deposit: Make sure the elderly person has their income going directly into their bank account (i.e. social security, reoccurring income payments). This can help to guarantee that the funds will make it to their account.
- Create a Joint Account or Convenience Account: This will allow yourself to personally monitor their financial transactions and help you to notice any fraudulent activity faster.
- Execute a new Power of Attorney: By appointing a trustworthy agent it assures that all activity can be done on the elder’s behalf. The document can be created with specific provisions to reduce the risk of abuse.
6. Can a Guardianship help protect against abuse from undue influence?
A guardianship action can return everything back to the way it was supposed to be by providing a legal means to recover the assets lost. It also provides the ability to collect information and proof of undue influence against the victim. Aside from financial abuse and undue influence, a guardianship action can be critical in physical abuse situations.
7. What is a “Public Guardianship”?
When an elderly person loses capacity a Guardianship action may be necessary. If you are unable to maintain the guardianship, New Jersey allows for a court appointed public official or agency to serve as the guardian. This is what is known as “Public Guardianship”. The appointed person/agency can make financial decisions on behalf of the ward just as in a standard guardianship.
8. Who is the most likely at risk for elder abuse?
Abuse is non-discriminatory of its victims. They are typically over 75 years old and have some condition that makes them more vulnerable. Whether it’s relying on someone for physical needs, or mental deterioration, victims will find themselves dependent on their abusers. Sometimes if the victim is not of full mental capacity, they may not even know they are being abused. If you believe there is an abuse or exploitation to be the case DO NOT hesitate to contact help before it’s too late.
9. What makes an older adult vulnerable to abuse and exploitation?
Social isolation and mental impairment (such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease) are the predominant factors comprising elder abuse. In some situations, studies show that living with someone else (a caregiver or a friend) may increase the chances for abuse. A history of domestic violence may also make a senior more susceptible to abuse.
10. What does “undue influence” mean?
Undue Influence consists of coercion that causes someone to do something he/she normally would not do. Because of the coercion, the elder may give gifts, make decisions or give authority to someone that he/she would not typically have done. The influence on the victim must be so strong that it overpowers their normal thinking and free will.
11. Who are the abusers of older people?
Wow, the list of potential offenders is diverse and sometimes unexpected. Abusers are both women and men. Family members are more often the abusers than any other group. For many years, it was adult children who were the most common abusers of family members but now the data suggests spouses are the most common perpetrators. Professionally, I still believe it to be family members.
Truth be told, elder abuse is a family issue. Neglect is the most common type of abuse identified.
12. Does New Jersey have any laws to protect against elder abuse?
Yes, New Jersey has many laws and procedures to protect against elder abuse and exploitation. Two primary examples are The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 and the Adult Protective Services Act. The acts cover many forms of abuse that leave the person in physical fear of their abuser.
13. Are there criminal penalties for the abusers?
You bet there are. New Jersey has laws that address criminal penalties for various types of elder abuse. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors are trained on elder abuse and ways to use criminal and civil laws to bring abusers to justice.
14. What if the abuse is coming from a nursing home or assisted living facility?
If you suspect abuse or exploitation from a long-term care facility you should contact the Office of the Institutional Care Ombudsman. Federal law protects confidentiality of all complaints and records. Reporting such abuse to the office can provide immunity to the person reporting the abuse.
15. Who do I call if I suspect elder abuse?
In New Jersey, you can call the local police, the County Office of Aging, the NJ Ombudsman for the Institute of Elderly and Adult Protective Services. Doctors, home health providers and health care professionals are legally obligated to report suspected abuse or neglect. These professionals are called mandated reporters.
Call the police or 9-1-1 immediately if someone you know is in immediate, life-threatening danger.
If the danger is not immediate, but you suspect that abuse has occurred or is occurring, please tell someone.
If you have been the victim of abuse, exploitation, or neglect, you are not alone. Many people care and can help. Please tell your doctor, a friend, or a family member you trust, or contact the NJ agency at this website by clicking here: Bill of Rights for the NJ Elderly
16. What should I expect if I call someone for help?
When making the call, be ready to give the elder’s name, address, contact information, and details about why you are concerned.
You may be asked a series of questions to gain more insight into the nature of the situation.
- Are there any known medical problems (including confusion or memory loss)?
- What kinds of family or social supports are there?
- Have you seen or heard incidents of yelling, hitting, or other abusive behavior?
You will be asked for your name, address, telephone number, etc., but in New Jersey, all police departments and state agencies will take the report even if you do not identify yourself. You are immune from legal liability for a report made in good faith.
Have questions or a case involving elder abuse in New Jersey? Contact Fredrick P. Niemann, a NJ elder abuse law attorney toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
He will sit and discuss with you your case and help you evaluate whether an actionable case of elder abuse exists.
Written by Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a New Jersey Elder Abuse Attorney