October 01, 2015

Preparing to Meet the Challenges of Elder Abuse

Kerry R. Peck
This article previously appeared in Experience Magazine, vol. 25, no.2, summer 2015, at 1-2.

Seniors, especially victims of dementia, are the perfect victims because they generally won't report abuse. Elder abuse is a modern scourge affecting older adults in America. This epidemic comes in many different forms: physical abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, neglect and self-neglect, abandonment, sexual abuse, and financial exploitation. Often this abuse is perpetuated by a family member or trusted caregivers upon an older adult who is cognitively impaired.

The statistics on elder abuse reported by the National Adult Protective Services Association are shocking. One in 20 older adults report some form of perceived financial mistreatment in the recent past. It is estimated that only one in 44 cases of financial abuse is ever reported. One in 10 financial abuse victims will be forced to seek Medicaid as a direct result of his or her money being stolen. Victims of elder abuse are four times more likely to be placed in a nursing home.

The statistics on Alzheimer’s are equally as shocking. Every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s. One in nine Americans age 65 and older (11 percent of the population) has Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association estimated that in 2014, 5.2 million Americans were afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. The massive increase anticipated in Americans stricken with Alzheimer’s is projected to increase by more than 60 percent to 8.4 million by 2030.

Tragically, these cognitively impaired older adults are more likely to tolerate an abusive situation rather than report it. There are many reasons for this. It can be because they don’t want to turn in the exploiter—they don’t want their family member to get arrested. Older adults are likely to have stopped driving and to have to rely on their exploiters for transportation. They may fear what will happen to them if no one is there to take them to the doctor, to the store, etc. If they are living at home, they may fear that the exploiter will put them in a nursing home if they resist. Or they may be ashamed and embarrassed that the abuse happened to them. These victims often deny exploitation when authorities ask about it, for fear of making things worse.

Attorneys in all areas of practice will inevitably encounter clients with cognitive impairments. This summer issue of Experience magazine will give you some insight into the specific problems facing the aging American population. There are a variety of terrific articles contributed by practicing attorneys around the country. Bernie Krooks and Elizabeth Valentin of Littman Krooks in New York have written an outstanding article entitled “Elder Abuse and the Court System: Oil and Vinegar?” Their article explains the attorneys’ role in the elder abuse court process. Rick Law of Law ElderLaw LLP and Dr. Nick Nadkarni, both from the Chicago area, provide us comprehensive attorney and psychiatrist perspectives on confabulation, which occurs when persons with dementia automatically fabricate a memory that makes them appear competent to others. Michael Kirtland, of Kirtland & Seal LLC, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, takes us through Rule 1.14, which deals with ethical issues surrounding the representation of clients with diminished capacity. Lori Stiegel of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging ably informs us about a new program aimed at reducing elder investment fraud and financial exploitation.

As Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise and our population of senior citizens grows as the baby boomers age, we must be prepared to meet these challenges. I would like to extend my gratitude to the authors for their contributions, which, I have no doubt, will provoke awareness and provide invaluable information to the readers.

To report elder abuse, contact the Adult Protective Services (APS) agency in the state where the elder resides. You can find the APS reporting number for each state through the State Resources section of the National Center on Elder Abuse website, http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/Stop_Abuse/Get_Help/State/index.aspx, or through Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, which can be accessed by visiting it online at http://www.eldercare.gov/Eldercare.NET/Public/Index.aspx or by calling 1-800-677-1116.


Kerry R. Peck

Kerry R. Peck (kpeck@ peckritchey .com) is the managing partner of the Chicago law firm Peck Ritchey, LLC, where he concentrates his practice in trust and estate litigation, estate planning, administration, guardianship, fiduciary litigation, and special needs and Alzheimer’s disease planning. Mr. Peck is a past president of the Chicago Bar Association. He is chair of Illinois State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s Elder Abuse Task Force and was retained by the City of Chicago Department of Aging to rewrite the Illinois Elder Abuse and Neglect Act. He co-wrote Alzheimer's and the Law, published by the ABA, and is a frequent speaker at continuing education seminars for attorneys and healthcare professionals across the country.