Monday, August 8, 2011

Who's protecting the elderly?

I recently met a woman on a social media website who reached out to me because of the advocacy I do for seniors. Her story is unfortunately common.

A family member financially abused her mother so much so that she was being kicked out of her home, an assisted living facility, because her rent wasn't paid by the family member who was in charge and took advantage of her. She is also without dental insurance because the policy was cancelled as well. Her savings have been exhausted, her credit cards have been charged up, and now she is left with a monthly social security check, and a daughter that is so exhausted and stressed out by what has happened to her mother, and the fact that it was a family member, that her own health is at risk.

So what's being done? Who is protecting seniors from this type of abuse, and going after the evil ones doing it? Unfortunately not much is being done and it's very difficult to find an authority who will pursue the perpetrator.  This daughter is exhausting herself trying to care for her mom, get authorities to listen and pursue having the family member made accountable. She has hit resistance because not a lot of people want to pursue damages from what they see as a family matter. .Others don't find this a crime of any urgency, and it gets tossed aside.

Adult Protective Services (APS) is supposed to be the agency that helps protect seniors, but my experience, and others I've spoken to, have had very little positive interaction and response from them. Typically they drill the person forming the complaint, as if the complaint is not legitimate or serious enough. If they decide to make a report or investigate, it usually only takes one person telling APS what they want to hear and the case is closed.

We've all heard the news stories about how Child Protective Services let a child fall through the cracks, such as the case with Jaycee Duggard. They heard and saw what they wanted to and walked away while that poor girl suffered for years. The same happens with seniors every single day.

I have called APS on several occasions throughout my 30+ year career, and I never call them lightly. I exhaust all possible solutions prior to calling, yet in all the times I've called I have seen them actually act and do something 1 time. Yes, you heard it, 1 time!

Many times when an elderly person is being abused, neglected, or taken advantage of, they are fearful of the aftermath if they are questioned by APS. The investigator walks away from the case without ever considering the fear behind the answers.  The abuser may, and often does, threaten the victim when they find out APS has been called.

Just as an example. Many years ago I had a home health patient, who after a few weeks of visiting, finally confided in me that her daughter was physically and emotionally abusing her. She was a pretty sick lady and her daughter was an alcoholic that smelled so bad of alcohol in the morning it nearly gagged me when I made my nursing visits. The patient and I talked and I told her it needed to be reported because she should not have to live in such horrible conditions, being abused. This took a few visits of talking before she finally agreed to allow me to report it.  I only wanted her approval because she'd finally developed enough trust in me to tell me what was happening to her.  I did not want to break her trust or for her to feel she had no one she could go to.

APS made a home visit, in which I was not present. They saw the conditions of the home, and spoke with my patient. They began by telling her they could move her to a nursing home. She told APS it really wasn't that bad and she did NOT want to move. For her the known surroundings and daily threats and physical attacks were better than going to an unknown nursing home. They also had called her home and spoke with her daughter before the home visit.  APS reported to me on a follow up call I made that she is an adult and because she refuses to move, there is nothing they can do. They said she is an adult and has rights. I still think about this lady, and wonder what ever happened to her after she was discharged from Home Health. I drive by the home which is not too far from my home and think about her. I think about how quaint and beautiful the home looks like from the outside, yet no one really knows the conditions and horrible treatment an elderly woman lived with inside that home.

One thing I do have to say in defense of APS is they have 2 case workers to handle the entire county, which is absurd! I understand they're understaffed and overworked but the lack of compassion tells me that the 2 individuals they have shouldn't be in those positions. Anyone with any sense knows that abused individuals are fearful of the repercussions if they report or tell the real truth of what is happening to them. APS seems to want to take the easiest way out of following through with a report so their caseload is less.

Just writing this I sit here in anger and sadness. Angry that we can't count on any agency to protect seniors, and sad for those who have been victimized by the abusers. Sad that no authority seems to care enough to do anything.

This is where advocacy is so very important. We need to write our state representatives about the lack of real protection by Adult Protective Services, and to enact stiffer laws that will seek and prosecute the evil abusers. You can find your State representatives under the advocacy tab on this site. Take a moment to advocate on behalf of those too scared to advocate for themselves and have fallen prey because of their vulnerable state.

 Put yourself in the place of either of these 2 women I mentioned. Being left with nothing but a social security check as you're being evicted from your home because a family member took your money, or living in dirty smelly conditions, while the one you count on for support is yelling, threatening, calling you names, withholding food, and smacking you around. Let these women be your motivation for advocacy. Let their lives be worth the 10 minutes it'll take to write your representative an email imploring APS to be accountable for every single complaint they receive and having more evidence to make a case decision than the answers a fearful and vulnerable aging adult gives them.

Thousands if not millions advocate for animals, endangered species, and civil rights. Aren't our elderly citizens who have spent decades upholding the laws of our country and contributing to society worth more than a dog, or a right to personal freedom?

For more information on recognizing financial abuse check out ths article

Angil Tarach-Ritchey can be reached for questions or comments at  or other contact options at

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