No excuse for Elder Abuse

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

Maria R. Messina, elder abuse attorney from Great Lakes Legal, Inc., spoke on elder abuse at the ICBA Probate Section meeting on April 16th. Her organization, part of Neighborhood Legal Services, was one of the sponsors of a recently launched public awareness campaign "No Excuse for Elder Abuse."

"We are going to talk about Elder Abuse," said Messina, "and how we, as attorneys, can prevent, detect and address it."

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is any form of mistreatment that results in harm or loss to an older person.

"While the most common form is physical abuse," she said, "there is also active and inactive emotional abuse such as isolating a person from family and friends, financial exploitation, neglect and self-neglect or the failure to provide for one's own essential needs. There is also caregiver neglect or abandonment."

Who is at risk?

Elder abuse, she noted, happens anywhere--in homes, in nursing homes or other institutions and affects seniors across all socioeconomic groups, cultures and races.

Who are the abusers?

"We want to think the bad guys are easily recognizable," Messina said, "and, unfortunately they are. They are the partners, caregivers, spouses, family members, neighbors, church members. They are people in positions of trust."

Caregiver stress contributes to the problem. Caregivers are often raising their own families and are now in a position where they must care for the older members of the family. Family dynamics can play a role such as neglected children who can now retaliate.

In 2012, nearly six million cases of elder abuse were reported, 100,000 in Michigan.

"Even though adults 60 and older comprise 15 percent of the population, they account for nearly 40 percent of fraud victims. Sixty-six percent of the perpetrators of fraud and abuse are family members. Most of the abuses are occurring in their own homes or in relatives homes."

Although these numbers are high, she added, "many more incidents go unreported. Why? Due to social isolation, shame or embarrassment and they don't want to send a relative to jail."

What can attorneys do to help?

Virtually all the tools of our trade can be used to prevent elder abuse, she explained.

Prevention tactics include:

* Explaining Medicaid and my choice waiver

* Keeping clients in their homes with help

* Help a client apply for public benefits to get qualified caregivers

* Let client know they can revoke a power of attorney

* Represent clients in guardianship proceedings

Detection:

* Remember who the clients are--speak to the client alone.

* Be sure that conservatorships, guardianships and Powers of Attorney are being used properly.

* Be aware of people with unusual interest in their finances.

* Watch behavior of your client to see if they are afraid of talking.

* Sudden changes in their financial status

"The best thing we can do for our clients," Messina said, "is to educate them. Use newsletters or brochures--giving them to any client that you meet with."

The elder abuse campaign, she explained, is a cooperation between Neighborhood Legal Services, the Elder Advocacy Center (part of Great Lakes Legal), the Area Agency on Aging 1B, Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw, Oakland Family Services and seven counties in southeast Michigan. There is a confidential hotline (1-855-444-3911) to call if elder abuse is suspected.

Published: Mon, Apr 29, 2013

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