February is Time to Care and Say Thanks
The Silent Crime
The Silent Crime
You love your family, but they hurt you over and over. That's what life is like for some elderly and vulnerable adults.
This is a phrase that is often heard from family members who are caring for vulnerable adults or elderly parents. The stress on such situations can be tremendous on caregivers.
Learning how to deal with bad or inappropriate behavior from those in your care is critical for family caregivers. Here are some helpful tips.
"The issue of Elder and Vulnerable Adult Abuse has been in the forefront for prosecutors throughout Tennessee and has culminated in several new and updated laws which specifically address financial, physical and sexual exploitation."
- DISTRICT ATTORNEY MATTHEW STOWE
With only 1 in 10 cases reported, ELDER ABUSE is a growing crime, yet it often goes unnoticed and unaddressed. It has been called a Silent Epidemic as it affects the elderly across all socio-economic divides.
The term “Elder Abuse” is an all-purpose term that covers several types of abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) defines elder abuse as "intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or 'trusted' individual that lead to, or may lead to, harm of a vulnerable elder. In many states, younger adults with disabilities may qualify for the same services and protections.
Over the past three years, Tennessee’s District Attorneys General have worked with lawmakers to craft better laws with tougher penalties to combat elder abuse.
24th District’s D.A. Matthew Stowe and District Attorney Lisa Zavogiannis led the development of sweeping new legislation initiated by Tennessee’s Conference of District Attorneys General.
Tennessee's Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act was passed in three major sections which addressed Financial Abuse (2017), Neglect and Sexual Abuse/Exploitation (2018), and Physical and Psychological Abuse (2019) .
Studies reveal that abuse of elders/vulnerable adults is often underreported due to shame or embarrassment. Unlike victims of random crimes, most perpetrators are known to their victims and may be family, caregivers or medical personnel. Because of the close relationships, victims are often too frightened to seek help.
Over the past three years, Tennessee legislators, district attorneys and advocate groups have worked to produce a modernized collection of laws specifically tailored to address abuse of elderly and vulnerable adults.
2017: The Senior Financial Protection & Securities Modernization Act was passed which better protects seniors (age 65 and older) and other vulnerable adults from financial fraud and exploitation by providing tools to financial organizations, such as Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance’s (TDCI) Securities Division, banks, broker-dealers, investment advisers, agents, representatives, and others in the securities industry. In addition to allowing for broader oversight of elderly client accounts, the new law provides for delays in disbursements up to 15 days if fraud is suspected. Civil penalties for financial fraud of elders have been doubled, and regulatory standards have been modernized.
2018: The Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act of 2018 updates current law pertaining to physical and sexual abuse of elders and vulnerable adults. This statute distinguishes physical and sexual abuse as felony offenses and increases its penalties and fines. The act of 2018 simplifies easier reporting of abuse by allowing for anonymous reports.
2019: The Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act of 2019brought enhanced and higher classified penalties to forms of abuse that result in physical or serious harm. An important new aspect of the law is that is widens the authority in seeking orders of protection for abused elders to conservators, agents/employees of the Commission on Aging and Disability, attorneys ad litem, as well as the elder adults themselves.
Tennessee now requires that anyone who suspects abuse must report it, however you have the option remain anonymous. In an emergency, always call 911 first.
Additionally, Tennessee has created an Abuse Registry where convicted abusers are now required to be registered. The database is available to the public online at https://apps.health.tn.gov/abuseregistry.
To make a report to local and state authorities call Adult Protective Services at 1-888-277-8366or make a report online at https://reportadultabuse.dhs.tn.gov/.
(Click the box at the bottom of the page and hit CONTINUE to go to the reporting form).
It’s not a very holiday-like subject, but if you seldom see your older relatives except at Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s an important time to be alert for signs of elder abuse. Not that you should necessarily talk about it, but keep your eyes open for obvious and for subtle signs of problems. For example, does Uncle Edward have bruises on his arms he can’t explain? It’s often true that seniors bruise easily, but it doesn’t hurt to ask him about it. Does he seem nervous about answering? If so, do what you can to get to the bottom of it.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) says that elder abuse is much more common than we’d like to think. Among Americans 60 years old and up, at least one in nine has been abused in some way in the last year. And:
The most common form of elder abuse is financial. Each year, at least $2.6 billion is pilfered from seniors in various schemes and scams, from family, acquaintances, caregivers, and strangers. While you are visiting your elder relatives during the holidays, you might ask casually if they are doing okay financially. Never mention the word “abuse,” says the National Center of Elder Abuse, but instead ask discreet questions. For example, “Is there anything you need help with, such as housekeeping, doctor appointments, money management?” “Are you able to keep up with your bills or is it difficult to remember to send checks out every month?” That may open the topic up so the elder can tell you if there are problems.
If you can do it without being intrusive, watch for signs like these:
A great resource in detecting elder financial abuse is often the bank tellers where your relative banks. They are trained to watch for signs of coercion. For example, if your elderly aunt has a caregiver who is pilfering money from her, the caregiver may accompany your aunt to the bank. Tellers notice when the elder seems nervous, when there are uncharacteristic withdrawals, and when checks start bouncing. Note: if you haven’t already done so, find out about being listed as a contact person on your relative’s bank account in case of concerns.
Who are the abusers and the victims?
A MetLife study of elder financial abuse (done in 2010) showed the most likely age group to be victimized is 80 to 89 years old. Are your elder relatives in that category?
Profiles of perpetrators from the same study shows that among male perpetrators, most were in the 40 to 59 year old age group. Among females, most perps were 30 to 39. They may or may not be related to the victim. Take some time to consider if anybody in those age ranges is in contact with your elderly loved ones. If so, how well do you know these people? Is there reason for concern?
The scammers who can do the most damage, financially and emotionally, are the ones who target lonely seniors and “befriend” them. The senior trusts the scammer and feels he or she can help. That’s when the money begins to slip out of Aunt Irma’s bank account and is gone forever. That’s why it’s critical to stay in touch with elderly relatives.
Note: Check out your parents’ “friends” carefully, but also realize not everyone is a scammer. Personally I’ve had several friends and neighbors who were 20 to 35 years older than me, who I spent time with because I knew they were lonely. In one case, I dropped in on a neighbor to find that her house reeked of gas from her stove, but she smelled nothing. I got her and her dog outside and got emergency help.
Because I have no ulterior motives, when I make friends with an older person I let their families know who I am and how to reach me. If your parents have friends that aren’t transparent with you, find out why.
So many people have worked hard to fine tune this comprehensive legislation.
Below are my special thanks to key people who have worked with my committee in making Tennessee's elder and vulnerable adult communities safer.
-District Attorney General Matthew Stowe (TN-24)
Chairman, Elder Abuse Committee / TN District Attorneys Conference
Thanks to the leadership of the Tennessee District Attorneys Conference led by Executive Director, Jerry Estes, Tennessee’s lawmakers coordinated with District Attorneys in analyzing and targeting problems in current law from the advantage of those on the front line of fighting abuse.
A very special appreciation is extended to District Attorney Lisa Zavoginnais (TN-31) for her partnership in creating and driving this comprehensive initiative.
Special recognition is extended to Rep. Kelly Keisling (R-TN-38) and State Sen. Mark Norris (R-TN-32) for their strident support within the General Assembly and sponsorship to enact these new protections for our most vulnerable in 2017 and 2018.
February is the time for showing appreciation for the relationships in our lives, and that includes our Elderly and Vulnerable Adults. It is a perfect time to show our elderly friends and family that we care. It is also a good time to say Thank You to the caregivers helping our loved ones.