5. Financial exploitation
Financial exploitation involves the unauthorized or illegal use of an elderly person’s resources like his/her assets, property, personal belongings, and money for the benefit of people other than the older individual.
It also takes into consideration those actions which involve depriving the elderly individual of the rightful access to or information about his/her personal possessions or things of benefits.
Examples of such activities include:
- Selling or transferring property belonging to the individual against his/her choice.
- Taking money or items from the elderly’s account or house without his/her permission.
- Stealing the identity of the older adult to open accounts under his/her name to obtain services, rent, lease or buy properties.
- Forging his/her signature to withdraw money.
- Use of insurance to obtain medical facilities.
- Changing wills, trusts and altering inheritance arrangements without the older adult’s knowledge or against his/her wishes.
- Forcing the individual to sign documents without revealing its contents.
- Mishandling the older adult’s assets and preventing the older adult to access or control his own resources.
- Using the older adult’s credit or debit cards to make transactions.
- Abusing joint signature authority or bank account, etc.
It is important to mention that self-harm or self-neglect is a consistent construct according to the WHO (World Health Organisation) violence typology. Self-neglect is a form of self-abuse that might occur concurrently with elder abuse. It typically accompanies emotional abuse. Often the elder individuals find themselves in a hopeless situation when they have to undergo any form or degree of abuse.
Abandonment can also be associated with neglect when the elderly person’s caretaker (who assumed responsibility for them voluntarily) consciously chooses to leave them to their plight and stops taking care of them. The caretaker might abandon the elderly person at the hospital, an old-age home, or in worst cases, even on the streets.
The elderly person is left helpless and forced to fend for themselves after they are abandoned.
These are signs that might show that an elderly person has been abandoned:
- Looks scared, depressed or lonely.
- Seems confused, lost, and anxious, and does not know what to do and how to take care of themselves.
- Poor standards of hygiene, such as horrible body odor, rotting teeth, physically weak etc.
- Looks to be dehydrated, hungry, malnourished, even starved.
One of the saddest and probably the most overlooked type of elder abuse is self-neglect. Self-neglect is when an elderly person becomes incapable of taking care of themselves, and even fails to take care of their basic, daily needs; they also refuse to tell anyone or hire anyone to take care of them and their needs.
One of the major reasons behind self-neglect is that many old people tend to struggle with depending on someone else for their needs and health. They find it extremely hard to let go of that control and believe that they can indeed take care of themselves, without taking the help of some other person.
Self-neglect might hinder an elderly person’s capability to:
- Have proper, nutritious, and healthy food.
- Look after their basic hygiene needs.
- Manage their money matters.
- Taking care of their home and personal possessions.
- Dress well and properly.
- Taking care of their health, and other medical needs.
Signs of elderly self-neglect are:
- Scarcity of proper medical supplies.
- Filthy home and living environment.
- Filthy clothes.
- Absence of proper personal hygiene.
- Scarcity of food at home.
- Skin rashes and bedsores.
- Continous weight loss, and malnourishment.
- Neglected injuries and infections.
Standing Against Elder Abuse
There is often a sense of ‘apathy’ associated with elder abuse which makes it more difficult to identify and formulate preventive strategies. Ageism leads to a negative attitude towards older people which contributes to the absence of ‘moral panic’ regarding the mistreatment faced by older adults. (2)
Similarly, older adults often rationalize abuse by rendering it ‘normal’ and ‘common events in almost every household’ and silently suffer along. Elders often safeguard the perpetrator, especially if he/she is a close family member like children or spouse. Some adults are not even aware of the community and institutionally based help that they can seek if they face harassment or abuse even by family members.