What to do if you suspect elder abuse is taking place


My neighbor who is an older widow feels she is being a victim of abuse and asked me for advice. Her son lost his job during the pandemic and moved in with his young daughter. He took out a loan against the house to add on for additional space. No construction has occurred. Rather, the son has purchased cars and bought expensive items without consulting her. She has no access to her money and wants to know what to do and where to turn for help? Do you have some suggestions? S.L.


You have described elder abuse which can take many forms. It can be physical, sexual, emotional, financial, neglect or any combination of these. It typically is perpetrated by someone that the abused trusts, such as a caregiver, family member or a person of authority.


The pandemic is considered a breeding ground for elder abuse as substantiated with a massive increase in reports of such abuse.


According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, this is no surprise considering social isolation is one of the greatest risk factors. During the pandemic we were advised, even mandated, to isolate from those closest to us. We stayed home, did not see our children, grandchildren, friends or teammates. We were told to live almost 24/7 with whomever was in our home. For some, this was a period of much-needed time to reset, a time to get to know our partner better, a time to rebalance work-life commitments, reorganize tasks, reflect on priorities or explore something new alone or together. With no runs to the market, movies or the mall, we have essentially been a nation at home for over one year – with whomever was in our house. This is a perfect setup for elder abuse, particularly if the older adult has been isolated for other reasons such as lack of transportation, cognitive decline or physical limitations.


The incidence prior to the pandemic is alarming. About one in 10 Americans aged 60 years and older have experienced some form of elder abuse. As many as five million older adults are abused each year and that is a conservative number. A national study suggests only 1 in 24 cases are reported to authorities, according to the National Council on Aging. The fear and isolation from the pandemic likely has exacerbated existing cases and even created new ones.


We may have the sense that elder abuse cannot happen to us or anyone close. You might remember the case of Lady Astor in New York. She was a beloved philanthropist of New York’s high society. After years of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, she died in 2007, leaving an estate valued at $185 million. She was a victim of elder abuse; her son Anthony Marshall was convicted of bilking her out of tens of millions of dollars with the help of a family lawyer. Lady Astor was forced to live in squalor, was cut off from outside contacts and denied medication and care — and this happened to a well-known personality with far-reaching and powerful contacts.


So, what to do? Each county in the city of Los Angeles has an Adult Protective Services Agency that can be reached at (833) 401-0832. When prompted, enter your five-digit zip code to be connected to the agency in your county, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. If living in Los Angeles County, call Adult Protective Services at (877) 477-3646. Someone will take a report and a social worker will be assigned to connect with the alleged victim within one to 10 days.


We all need to be vigilant for elder abuse, given its surprising incidence. One way to prevent it is to increase our social connections with older adults and their caregivers. During the pandemic, it might be difficult to be physically close. What we can do is to make a phone call, use Zoom or Facetime, email photos, write a note and just keep up connections. Of equal importance is doing what you are doing S.L., responding to the need and forwarding resources that can intervene in the abuse. Those who call Adult Protective Services do not have to give their name.


Thank you for your important question. Your neighbor is lucky to have you as a good neighbor whom she obviously trusts.


Stay safe and stay well.


Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulagingCommunity