In March of 2011, 90-year-old actor Mickey Rooney tearfully testified before the Senate Aging Committee about an oft-hidden pervasive problem affecting our aging population: elder abuse. Rooney was uniquely qualified to discuss the issue, seeing as he recently resorted to getting a restraining order against his 52-year-old stepson, accusing the man of intimidating him, holding him against his will, starving him, not allowing him to read the mail and withholding necessary medications.

Unfortunately, Rooney is not alone in this tragic situation. As he said to the Committee, "if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone." A 2009 report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) showed that 14 percent of non-institutionalized elder adults suffer from some form of abuse annually. According to the New York Times, a survey performed by the Investors Protection Trust proves that even more - 20 percent - have been defrauded.

What is Elder Abuse?

The elderly are particularly vulnerable to various forms of abuse because oftentimes they are mentally incapacitated by disease or the ravages of time and are physically weakened by the effects of age. Rooney succinctly described the frustrations of being abused by a trusted loved one by saying he was "trapped, scared, used and frustrated," but also afraid to blow the whistle.

There are definite signs to look for if you suspect an elderly loved one is being abused, mistreated or neglected, however. Be on the lookout for physical signs like bruises, bedsores, broken bones or burns, and other indicators such as:

  • Frequent arguments between the elderly person and the suspected abuser - this can be an expression of frustration on the part of the victim
  • Unexplained withdrawals from the elderly person's checking or savings accounts, which can indicate someone with a power of attorney is embezzling funds
  • Sudden increases in fees from financial advisors can indicate "churning," a process in which bills are inflated to defraud the victim
  • Unannounced transfers of sizable amounts of money or real estate can be a sign of someone exerting undue influence over a vulnerable senior citizen

If you suspect that an elderly person you love is being physically, mentally or financially abused, contact the appropriate authorities immediately. And, as soon as possible, contact an experienced elder law attorney in your area to discuss legal options like restitution of misused funds, establishing a trust or having criminal charges filed against the abuser.

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