As we enter our golden years, the risk of isolation and neglect increases.
The Department of Social and Health Services has reported a significant increase in adult abuse across the state, and July is Adult Abuse Prevention Month. In 2017 DSHS conducted 10,713 investigations related to finances, nearly double the number of investigations conducted in 2012. It now accounts for more than 25 percent of all inquiries.
Signs of financial exploitation include adding additional names on bank signature cards; unauthorized withdrawal of funds using an ATM card; abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents; unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions; bills unpaid despite having sufficient funds; forging a signature on financial transactions or for the titles of possessions; sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming rights to a vulnerable adult’s possessions; and unexplained sudden transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family.
We tend to think our small communities are safe from these “off-island” problems. We’re not. Keep a watchful eye out for family, friends and neighbors who may be vulnerable. Understand that abuse can happen to anyone. Speak up if you have concerns, and report suspected abuse. Find ways to limit the person’s isolation if that is an issue. Older adults in declining health can be even more vulnerable to abuse because of the increasing dependence.
The Orcas Senior Center is a thriving hub of social activity, luncheons, classes and more. It also has the Hearts and Hands program that offers in-home companionship visits and household assistance. It is currently recruiting additional volunteers in an effort to respond to increased requests. Those interested in participating can contact Tom Eversole at 360-370-0562. OSC staff receives requests for services beyond what H&H can provide, including off-island medical transportation, house cleaning, home maintenance and repair, in-home health care and overnight respite care. Those services are mostly unavailable to low-income residents of rural, island communities. Without them homebound elders cannot age safely in place alone. Program staff is exploring ways to engage public and private community service organizations in sustainable solutions to fill these gaps.
If you are a vulnerable older adult, do not let anyone, whether a family member, friend or caregiver, isolate you from the telephone or other people or prevent you from leaving your house. If living with another person, make sure to have your own phone. Send and open your own mail. When you need help, ask a trusted friend, attorney, family member or physician before you act. Do not give your personal information like a social security number or birth date to someone you hardly know. Do not give your credit card number, your social security number or bank account numbers over the phone. Do not add another person’s name to bank or insurance documents without legal advice. Be thoroughly familiar with your financial status and know how to handle your assets. Organize your financial documents in one place for easy and quick reference.
Telephone scam artists try to get your personal information by offering prizes, credit cards and other false benefits. Do not sign any document until you or someone you trust has read it. Get two or more bids for home repair work from reputable contractors. Do not hire anyone unless they are bonded and licensed. Beware of having more work done than is needed. There are many charity scams where the charity does not exist. Make sure you check the references of a potential caregiver and, if possible, perform a background check. Make a will and carefully consider all revisions before finalizing them. Be wary about deeding or willing your house or other assets to anyone who promises to keep you out of a nursing home or take care of you at home if you become disabled. Keep valuables in a safe place.
Education is the best tool for prevention. We can help each other and ourselves by being aware of elder abuse.