The Truth about Exploitation and the Elderly

Exploitation of the elderly has always existed and only in the past few decades has it been recognized as an epidemic as more tragic stories surface into the spotlight. Today, exploitation of the elderly is a very prevalent problem wherein the perpetrators are usually family members, paid caregivers or in some cases unsuspecting strangers. Exploitation of the elderly does not discriminate from the rich, poor or color of your skin; anyone can be a victim. Adult Protective Services investigated 2,375 cases of exploitation in the Houston District, which serves Harris County and 12 surrounding areas, and of those 160 were validated cases. Exploitation cases can be very complicated to investigate as complex family dynamics are involved. Most elderly victims do not want to prosecute against their loved ones. 

Some indicators of exploitation include but are not limited to: 

  • Unusual activity in bank account
  • Caregiver’s name added to bank account
  • Unpaid bills
  • Unusual purchases on credit cards
  • Suspicious loans taken out in older adult’s name

One story I can recall is about a 90 year old elderly woman who was befriended by a much younger man in his 30’s. Their so called “friendship” turned into romance and later marriage all within 6 months. Within a few months of the marriage he drained her bank account and subsequently, placed her in a nursing home. Her daughters indicated that she had saved her entire life so that she could receive 24 hour care in the home and not be placed in a facility. 

Generally, the victim is not the one who discovers the exploitation but rather family members or banks who are flagging unusual and/or inconsistent activity on accounts. Most banks have a division dedicated to financial abuse and will file a report with Adult Protective Services for further investigation. Exploitation is not only monetary but includes personal items such as jewelry, tools and in some cases vehicles. In these instances the perpetrator is often the paid provider or family members. 

Oprah Winfrey courageously revealed her story of child abuse to the world and as a result brought the subject to the forefront. Equally, the stories shared about elder abuse and exploitation by celebrities such as Mickey Rooney this too will give new spotlight to the hidden epidemic. The victimization of the elderly in our society is not a new phenomenon; however, with the new invasion of baby boomers coming into age, elder abuse and fraud will be more prevalent. 

About the author

APS Supervisor II with the Adult Protective Services (Texas Department of Family)