By Jennifer Stuart, Attorney, Senior Law Project
February 8, 2017 – The month of February, also known as National Senior Independence Month, kicks off a time to discuss how everyone can help seniors live life to the fullest by staying safe, healthy and happy.
One important way to help is by empowering seniors to prevent elder abuse – the emotional, physical, sexual or financial victimization of the elderly. Domestic violence has gained increased awareness over the last several decades, but elder abuse remains a problem that is far too prevalent, much too little understood, and, as baby boomers enter their golden years, increasingly important. Without more awareness and recognition of this problem, it's still too difficult for many seniors to admit when they've been physically hurt or taken advantage of financially and to seek help.
Elder abuse takes many forms. It can be a caretaker verbally or physically abusing, or simply neglecting, a disabled family member over whom they have complete control. It can be a scam artist tricking seniors into wiring them money with just a phone call. It can be a trusted person using a power of attorney to steal money from a senior's bank account. It can be the sexual abuse of a nursing home resident.
Physical and mental limitations can make anyone more vulnerable to abuse, and seniors endure sexual and physical abuse more often than most people realize. Financial exploitation is so common that the North Carolina Department of Justice publishes a 32-page booklet with in-depth descriptions of various scams and fraud targeting seniors.
Preventing elder abuse requires seniors, as well as their families and friends – in other words all of us – to learn more about common scams, signs of abuse to watch out for, and precautions to take with financial and estate planning, including the preparation of advance directives like powers of attorney.
The more we know, the more we can help. Please join me in recognizing National Senior Independence Month and help spread the word about how to prevent elder abuse.
Jennifer Stuart is an attorney in Raleigh with the Legal Aid of North Carolina's
Senior Law Project (SLP). She writes monthly articles about legal issues affecting seniors. The SLP provides free civil legal help to North Carolinians who are 60 or older. To contact the SLP, call 1-877-579-7562 (toll-free), Monday through Friday, 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m.