Financial Abuse: Underreported but Not Uncommon among Older Women

By Ibrahim, Nadia; Applebaum, Bethany | Aging Today, May/June 2015 | Go to article overview

Financial Abuse: Underreported but Not Uncommon among Older Women


Ibrahim, Nadia, Applebaum, Bethany, Aging Today


Susan sought primary and behavioral health services at the local Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)-funded federally qualified health center (http://findahealthcenter. hrsa.gov/). During a regularly scheduled visit, her behavioral health provider noticed Susan was particularly concerned and anxious. Her brother Jim had recently moved back to the rural Appalachian community where they grew up. He was living with and caring for their elderly mother, and had convinced her to let him take over her finances.

During a recent visit to her mom's home, Susan had noticed multiple overdue, unpaid bills in the mail stack. She found it odd, especially because her mom had always been diligent about paying bills on time and living within her means. Susan wondered if Jim, who had a history of drug use, was stealing. Jim had previously approached Susan asking for money, but she had refused. When Susan confronted him about her mother's unpaid bills, he denied any wrongdoing and wouldn't talk to her. Susan's mother didn't believe her son would do such a thing.

The behavioral health provider explained to Susan that what she was describing sounded like financial exploitation, a form of elder abuse. He said that, as a healthcare professional, he had an obligation to report any situations where he feels that someone who cannot take care of themselves is at risk of being harmed. The provider explained that there are resources available in every state, provided through a variety of systems including the healthcare system, Adult Protective Services (APS), the judicial system and social services (http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/Stop_ Abuse/Get_Help/State/index.aspx). These services help to ensure the safety and well-being of adults who are at risk of being abused or neglected.

Functions of these entities differ, but may include investigating reports of adult abuse; providing functional, physical and psychosocial assessments; or the provision or arrangement of medical, social, economic, legal and emergency support services. The provider reassured Susan that her name would not be included in the report, and-with Susan in the room- he called APS. After the call, Susan was relieved, knowing that she had now done something to help her mother.

Training for Providers in Recognizing Exploitation

Older women frequently are the target of financial exploitation, which often may not be recognized as a form of abuse. However, a 2011 joint report from MetLife Mature Market Institute, The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Polytechnic and State University suggests the problem is widespread, estimating an annual loss by victims of financial exploitation to be at least $2.9 billion, a 12 percent increase over the $2.6 billion estimated in 2008. The MetLife Study on Elder Financial Abuse (http://goo.gl zD4gOOT), which compared news articles collected in 2008 and 2010, found women were nearly twice as likely as men to be victims of elder financial abuse.

Healthcare providers play an important role in identifying these elder abuse cases. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports screening of patients older than age 60 to help identify victims of abuse and provide them appropriate healthcare and supports. …

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