The abuse of senior citizens has become a serious concern in recent years. Many people have come to recognize that this is an issue that needs to be addressed, but there’s a problem: No one knows how big this problem really is. Nationwide, it’s believed that at least one in ten senior citizens will be a victim of abuse in a given year, but tracking has been incomplete and different studies have used different definitions of abuse. For instance, some studies have not included financial abuse; others have estimated that only one in 14 to one in 24 cases of abuse even come to the attention of authorities.
An exposé earlier this year by the Indianapolis Star looking specifically at the financial abuse of elders estimated that crimes of this kind cost Indiana’s elders around $38 million in 2010. The true amount might be 10 to 20 times higher.
High Cost of Financial Abuse
When you think of nursing home abuse, you probably think about physical abuse, or maybe psychological abuse, such as bullying; you might even have heard of instances of sexual abuse, or of abuses of privacy, such as the high-profile reports of nursing home staff posting explicit photos of those in their care online. The most common form of nursing home abuse, however, might be financial.
Last year, Consumer Reports tried to get a handle on the extent of this type of abuse. After looking at the available data and interviewing a number of experts, they were only able to set a conservative lower limit: elder financial abuse costs at least $3 billion each year. The upper limit, however, is much higher. They cite one report which estimates that the true cost is closer to $36 billion. Likewise, no one is really sure how many seniors fall victim to these crimes. Some suggest it’s less than 5%; others think it’s closer to 20%. Even the definition of what constitutes fraud and financial abuse is not consistent from study to study or agency to agency.
Indiana, like all states, has an Adult Protective Services agency to help protect those who can’t protect themselves. Their mandate also covers those with mental illness and developmental disabilities, but their main function has become the protection of senior citizens. Indiana’s APS is unique, in that it’s the only state in which APS staff are not social service workers but serve a full-time criminal justice function: county APS offices report to the local District Attorney and can recommend that charges be filed.
An estimated 40,000 cases of elder abuse and neglect are reported each year in Indiana, and about one quarter of them lead to an investigation. Unfortunately, many more cases go unreported and uninvestigated. This is, sadly, a category of crime that too often goes unnoticed and unpunished.
Justice for Victims of Elder Abuse
The law firm of Wilson Kehoe Winingham has experience with cases involving elder abuse and nursing home abuse. If you have an elderly relative who you think has been abused, physically or financially, it’s in your interest and theirs to get help. Call us at 317-920-6400 or reach us online to schedule a free consultation about your case.