Aging Population Issues Raise Senate’s Attention

By Ann Cleven

The issue of elder abuse is a growing problem among retiring baby boomers and was the topic of discussion for the senate Committee on Aging, who met on Wednesday for its second hearing of the year.

Financial abuse is one of the biggest dangers this group faces, victimizing an estimated 7-10 percent of seniors, according to The National Center on Elder Abuse.
Often these abuses go undetected, as 90 percent of these crimes are committed by family members that take advantage of an older relative for money.

“My grandmother would never want to be known as one of America’s most famous cases of elder abuse,” said Philip Marshall, the grandson of New York’s well-known philanthropist Brooke Astor. “Nor did she, while in the throes of dementia, choose to be victimized; to be deprived, manipulated and robbed.”

Marshall testified in front of the committee that he was told to “follow your heart, then the money,” when he suspected his father of stealing from his grandmother. Marshall petitioned for legal guardianship after he noticed his grandmother’s health and living conditions worsen, and soon learned his father spent millions of Astor’s money.

As a high profile family, this case attracted a lot of media attention and his father was found guilty in 2007 of 13 charges.

Though Marshall’s father was found guilty of criminal charges, many cases go untried, unreported and even unnoticed. It is estimated that for every elder abuse case that is reported, 14 cases go unreported, according to The National Center on Elder Abuse. Another statistic finds 9 percent of elder abuse victims turn to Medicaid to fund their health costs having their assets stolen, a large cost to taxpayers.

Adult Protective Services is one government agency created by the Adult Protective Services Act of 1984 to look after these issues and provide care for the elderly. However, the agency’s funding is limited, lacking resources to research every case. It also lacks the authority to take custody of an elderly person facing abuse.

Because many of these abuses are not investigated, the legal system often does not bring charges against the perpetrators or even file an investigation.

“Having historically deemed most of elder abuse as ‘civil’ or ‘family’ matters, the criminal justice system is only now beginning to come to terms with the fact that crimes are being inflicted on the elderly at alarming rates, and that only a small fraction of those crimes are even properly investigated and prosecuted,” said another witness, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Page Ulrey of Seattle.

Ulrey voiced the importance of awareness and training of law enforcement officials to deal with these crimes, instead of leaving these cases to be filed as a civil suit. In addition to law enforcement officials, Ulrey and other witnesses urged that Congress should create a solution that allows banks and financial entities to communicate as a third party, if they suspect elder abuse.

“In Maine, we discovered one of the most valuable resources to be our banks and credit unions,” said Main Securities Administrator and Co-Chair of the Main Council for Elder Abuse Prevention, Judith Shaw. Shaw is also an advocate for Maine’s Senior$afe, a program that works with banks, credit unions and state agencies to identify possible abuses.

“We used to do more to ensure financial advisers aren’t taking advantage of our elders,” said Senator and Committee Member, Elizabeth Warren.  She voiced her concern that perhaps the aging population is being taken advantage of by financial institutions that might try to sell seniors a more expensive product. “A one percent increase in fees could cost a retiree 100,000 dollars in savings,” Warren said.

Yet with most abuses committed by family members, financial institutions and other third party entities could play a key role in helping to identify an abuse case. Currently only 17 states require banks report abuse if it is suspected, according to the American Bankers Association.

Other committee members voiced concern over this topic after the witnesses’ testimonies, and were supportive in their comments that elder abuse needs more attention.

“You can see by the attendance of senators on both sides of the aisle, there is a great concern for elder abuse,” said Chairman of the Committee, Senator Susan Collins. “We’re just beginning to scratch the surface of the scope of the issue.”

The Older Americans Act of 1965 is up to be reauthorized on February 13, an act that funds Meals on Wheels, in-home services and caregiver support. Reauthorizing the act would continue these programs and continue to provide services to elderly.

If the act is reauthorized, it can also allow for the changes witnesses testified are crucial to identifying elder abuse.

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