Elder Abuse and a Few Laws Addressing These Issues Specifically

In this episode, Lisa Shoalmire and John Ross discuss the very sobering topic of elder abuse and the laws on the books in Texas and Arkansas that specifically address abuse of seniors.

Episode Transcript
John
Welcome to Aging Insight, I'm your host John Ross, and I'm here with my co-host Lisa Shoalmire, and we're elder law attorneys who try to address the needs of seniors, in particular. But, not just seniors; basically, anybody who is concerned about how they're gonna take care of themselves if they become disabled or they start needing additional help. Because when that time comes you don't wanna be a burden on your friends and family, you don't wanna deplete your life savings and go broke trying to pay for care. And we know that you can accomplish those goals. We know that the tools are out there, that you can live on your own terms the way you wanna do it, but there's a key, there's one thing that you've got to have to do this and that's knowledge. That's knowledge about what's going on out there. What rules are out there? What things are gonna impact you?
John
And what to look out for as you navigate through these years. And we've talked about lots of topics on this show, from how to pay for nursing home care to HIPAA releases and medical powers of attorney and veterans' benefits and all kinds of things. But there's another side to getting older. And in particular is that our older population is a vulnerable population. Oftentimes if you think about small children, it's not uncommon for small children to find themselves in an abusive household where maybe they're being physically or mentally abused. But what doesn't seem to get a lot of attention is that that same type of thing can happen to the elderly. That senior abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse and one that doesn't apply to kids, which is financial abuse, those are big deals out there and it's really tragic. And a lot of times, being able to spot the signs of elder abuse, know what you're looking for, know the difference between what is abuse and what is not abuse, those things. Whether it's you or whether it's somebody you love, being able to identify elder abuse is a huge deal that can benefit all of us as a community.
Lisa
Well, that's right and if we're all fortunate enough to live to our old age, it's quite likely that as we get older we will need more supports and so we'll need to lean on friends and family to maybe do driving for us or take care of those grocery errands or read over that piece of mail that we got that just isn't really making sense to us. So, as we get older most people do lean on others in the community quite a bit, and because of that need they have for that assistance, it makes that person vulnerable to elder abuse. And we always talk about that surrounding yourself with the right team as you get older is really the most important thing you can do. Hey, I'd love for everyone out there to win the lottery and never have another worry about finances, but, really that's just secondary. What we need is a reliable, trustworthy team. And when you have that team, elder abuse is less likely to happen. But it happens in the most unexpected places. People don't expect elder abuse to be happening to their friends or someone they know.
John
Or to themselves.
Lisa
Or to themselves. And they're very ashamed to report it when it does happen to them. And, John, just a few weeks ago we lost a star of the silver screen. A lot of people out there I'm sure are familiar with Mickey Rooney who... I'm a big old movie fan and so certainly seen Mr. Rooney perform in all sorts of movies with Judy Garland and all but, as Andy Hardy, but John, I don't know if you know that Andy Rooney was the biggest movie star of 1939, in the whole world, the biggest movie star.
John
Yeah, Mickey Rooney was a fantastic actor. In fact, depending on who you ask, some people have called him one of the greatest actors this country has ever seen.
Lisa
Yeah, if you think about 1939, that was the year of the Wizard of Oz, of Gone with the Wind, but yet the biggest box office attraction, it wasn't Clark Gable, it was Mickey Rooney. And he had a very tumultuous private life. He was a World War II veteran. He left his movie career, and went to serve in World War II. And by the time he came back from the war, his movie career was kind of in the ditch, and Americans' taste had moved on from the kind of roles that he had typically played. He was married eight times over the course of his life. He had a number of children, a number of stepchildren.
Lisa
He was also a victim of elder abuse. And here we have this big Hollywood star, that in his senior years was abused financially, physically and mentally by one of his stepsons and this stepson's wife who, according to Mr Rooney, essentially held him hostage in his own home, took away his ability to manage his own assets, exercised... Sought conservatorship and guardianship over him, threatened him as far as doing jobs that would make money that the stepson could then spend on his own self.
Lisa
And so Mr Rooney had this happen to him, and he was ashamed. But yet, he was finally able to break out of this, and be able to get away from this stepson. And he actually gave Congressional testimony in front of a panel who was studying elder abuse, I think back in 2008. So he came out very publicly about what happened to him. And again, a famous person, a lot of people knew who he was, had resources, money, but yet he was a victim.
John
Right. And I guess the point with that is if he can be a victim, so can you. It can happen to anybody. And so learning the types of elder abuse, learning what is or is not elder abuse, and what to do about it, that's really the key. And so I think what we're gonna do is we're gonna take a little break. And when we come back, we'll talk about spotting that elder abuse.
Lisa
Welcome back to Aging Insight. I'm Lisa Shoalmire, and I'm here with my partner, John Ross. And today, we're talking about the very sobering topic of elder abuse. And a lot of folks really haven't heard of this as a unique area of abuse. But the states of Texas and Arkansas both have laws on the books that specifically address abuse of seniors, just like they have laws that address the abuse of children. But seniors... We presume a five-year-old has no capacity to be able to get out from an abusive situation or to use their judgement. But with seniors, that can be a very grey area. But also seniors, John, you pointed out a moment ago that seniors actually usually have some assets or some income, and so that makes them vulnerable in a way that children are not.
John
Right. Basically, when you're talking about elder abuse, you're looking at it from one of, generally one of three categories. Is it a physical abuse? Assaults, sexual assaults of the elderly is actually a very... There's a quite a bit of that sort of thing happening out there. Physical abuse, whether it's in the home by family members or whether it's in nursing homes and things like that, it happens. So there's physical abuse. There's also emotional abuse. As people's needs become greater and greater and they can do less and less for themselves, a lot of times, their caregivers, who maybe started out with some good intentions, but because of the stress of care giving, have become frustrated and maybe they start having a tendency to talk bad about the person and telling them that they're just not good enough. So there's a mental and emotional abuse factor. Now, those two things can happen to adults, just like it could happen to children. The third one is financial abuse. And that's really one that's pretty unique to older adults, because a lot of times they've accumulated some stuff. They have steady income in the form of Social Security or pensions, they have assets, maybe bank accounts, retirement accounts and they have illiquid assets, like a home and other things that people might wanna take.
Lisa
Right. Actually, financial abuse of a senior is a very specific criminal and civil type of abuse. And a lot of our financial professionals, such as banks and financial advisers, are provided some training on what to look for in a financial abuse situation. Oftentimes, if we see a lot of checks going through someone's account made out to cash, that can be a sign. It can be a sign if a new person is driving the senior through the drive-through line fairly frequently, making withdrawals from the accounts. It can be even the senior signing over the ownership of their home to a caregiver or family member who has...
John
Coerced them into doing that.
Lisa
Coerced them. And a lot of times these types of abuse are related. For instance, you get that caregiver that's often a family member who tells that senior, who now is quite dependent on their caregiver, they tell that senior, "Look, if I leave you, you'll have nobody to take care of you. And then where will you be? You'll be on the street or you'll be at a home, so you don't wanna make me mad, and oh, by the way, I want $5,000 if I'm gonna stay around and take care of you." And that senior, thinking that there's nobody else in the world who would be there for them, they sign over the asset, pay over the money, and of course, just like with any other blackmail mental abuse type situation, that doesn't end it.
John
No. It's never good enough. It just gets worse and worse.
Lisa
So if you have seniors in your life, what you wanna look for are... You wanna look for isolation. Is a new caregiver or family member who has taken on the care responsibilities for a senior, are they still taking them around? And is that senior still able to get to Sunday school and still having some of those social interactions, telephone calls, things that they had normally had? Or is that caregiver seeming to isolate them?
John
Right. If you've got a person that was very active and now all of a sudden they've just almost disappeared into their own home, could be that something else is going on there. Isolation is a big one. Changes in personality. When you're the victim of abuse, especially if you're an adult, this can be very shameful. You know you're being abused, but to admit that means to admit that you're powerless and that because of your age, you're too frail or too weak to do anything about it. And that causes embarrassment, which can turn outgoing people into introverts and they may not wanna talk like they used to and they may avoid conversations, particularly if those conversations are about how they're doing and things like that. So if you see somebody withdrawing themselves, maybe they're not communicating like they used to. When you're sitting there next to them at church and they used to tell you everything that was going on and now they don't say anything at all, and the only difference is that they've got a new family member in town, could be that something else is going on there.
Lisa
It's so hard, John, because sometimes just the aging process or an illness can cause some of the same type changes. But the key is that you continue to take an interest in that senior that you've always known in the community or is part of your family. So that way you can discern whether or not these changes are more related to their aging and health, or seem to be maybe related to an abuse type situation.
John
Right, and these are of course gonna be very case specific. You're gonna know that person, or that person's situation, or what's going on about them, and whatever the circumstances is, are gonna be very unique to that person, and you may not have any certainty that something is going on, but sometimes, if it smells funny.
Lisa
That's right, it's better do something.
John
That's exactly right. So we're gonna take a little break, and when we come back, we're going to talk about what doing something about it really means, so we'll be right back.
John
Welcome back to Aging Insight. I'm John Ross, and this is Lisa Shoalmire, and today we've been talking about elder abuse, and we've been talking about looking for signs of it, and trying to spot it out there, and sometimes that can be very difficult. Especially because oftentimes elder abuse is... The abuser is not really somebody you would expect. In fact, the vast majority of elder abuse is committed by close family members, spouses, children, grandchildren, people that you wouldn't normally think of as the perpetrators of despicable crimes, and yet because of money, because of family dynamics or whatever, these people have turned into abusers. So it really can happen to anybody, and it can happen in any situation. The key is, when you see it, when you know it's out there, or when you think it's out there, report it, and when I say report it, sure, there's a moral obligation that if you see somebody in danger, or you think somebody's being abused, sure, from a moral standpoint, we should report it, but, at least around here, it goes a little further than that. It's actually required, if you suspect somebody is being abused, you are required to report that to law enforcement. In fact, the failure to report is a crime.
Lisa
Yep. Well, and that can be a very touchy situation, so the states of Texas and Arkansas have set up toll free numbers where you can actually call Adult Protective Services and report suspected abuse to that crisis line, and that report can be anonymous if you choose, although frequently it's really not too hard to figure who it was that made the report just based on the facts as they're reported, but if you don't feel comfortable picking up and going to make a report to the police station or the sheriff's office, then you can utilize that 1-800 crisis line number in both states to report elder abuse.
John
And one thing a lot of people will mention to me is they'll say, "Well, John, you know, I was thinking about... I don't know if it's abuse, I don't really know what's going on, and I'm afraid that if I report it and it turns out not to be abuse, that maybe they'll come back on me, maybe I could get sued for something like that." Well, you're actually protected from that, as well. There is no liability for reporting suspected elder abuse, even if it turns out that there was in fact no elder abuse going on, as long as you had some reason to suspect it. Now, of course, making false claims is a whole different deal.
Lisa
Yeah.
John
You don't get to just go out there making random false claims against people. That can get you in trouble. But if you suspect it, even if it turns out to be perfectly okay, if you suspect it, the best course of action is to err on the side of reporting it.
Lisa
That's right. So if you've got that good faith belief that something's going on, make the report, and one of the other options in dealing with elder abuse can be, if it's a family member that is a caregiver that you suspect is abusing that senior financially, physically, psychologically. If you're so inclined, you can actually step in and seek, perhaps it's appropriate to seek a guardianship where you are appointed to be the caregiver of that person, because the caregiver they have is inappropriate and committing these abuses, that's something to explore as well.
John
Yeah, one thing, anybody can file for guardianship over anybody else. So you don't even necessarily have to be related to the person to try to seek that guardianship in order to protect that person who cannot make decisions for themselves.
Lisa
And with that guardianship, John, there's a lot of proof that you have to put on as far as a guardianship, but sometimes just engaging the process will get the microscope put on the situation to where, if there's financial abuse going on, maybe the court will say, "Hey, it looks to me like this individual can care for themselves and make day-to-day decisions for themselves, but I'm worried about the money, so I'm gonna put the money in a special account where it's gonna be protected."
John
That's right. And so there is Adult Protective Services, which is a division of the Department of Health and Human Services that investigates elder abuse in the home environments and things like that. There's also, if you have a family member that you suspect has been mistreated in a nursing home environment, there is a Nursing Home Ombudsman and this is usually a part of the Area Agency on Aging and that Ombudsman can go out and look into the situation. And if they suspect elder abuse, they can get law enforcement involved. Of course, you could always call 911. And if you're not sure what to do, one way or the other, the other thing is you can contact somebody like an elder law attorney. We're not law enforcement people, but we have seen this and we've experienced it through our clients over and over. And so a lot of times, an elder law attorney can provide you guidance and resources on where to go.
Lisa
That's right and that's what Aging Insight is all about, is providing you those resources and guidance as you get older and you know, John, that's one thing we're all on that track one way or another to get a little older. So we hope that you've gotten something out of today's program and we're here every week, so we appreciate you viewing Aging Insight right here on KLFI. And you can also tune in to us on Saturdays on the radio at 107.1 and that's every Saturday at noon. And if you have questions, that's a live call in. So you could call us during that time.
John
That's right. You can also find us on the internet at www.aginginsight.com or you could follow me on Twitter @TXKElderLaw.com. Until next time. I'll see you later.
Lisa
Bye-bye.

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