Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation

Elder abuse, financial exploitation, and inadequate care are pervasive problems for older adults

Sometimes this abuse can be physical, or a case of neglect, and other times the abuse is in the form of financial exploitation or a scam that causes substantial harm. 

Abuse and exploitation in all its forms (whether physical, financial, mental or emotional) is more prevalent for persons who have diminished cognitive capacities and impairment such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. For persons with dementia, close to 50% are at risk of and will experience some form of abuse (including financial exploitation). 

Abuse and exploitation are perpetrated by a variety of players. Sometimes it is a family member or caretaker who has gained the trust of an unsuspecting victim. Sometimes it is a guardian or other professional who has access to a person’s legal and financial affairs. 

Many of the clients Project Guardianship serves come to us after someone noticed that an older adult was in great need or was being abused. Oftentimes, it is another well-meaning family member, landlord, hospital, nursing home, or Adult Protective Services who noticed that something was amiss — and made a petition on behalf of the individual to the guardianship court. Often, the courts will appoint Project Guardianship as guardian for these types of cases, because of the level of care that will be required (and our ability to resolve the issue of the abuse). These cases are often beyond the capacities of other private guardians and agencies.

Elder abuse triggers and/or accelerates a downward spiral of mental and physical debilitation for many victims, eroding their health, financial stability, and well-being.

Many of the clients Project Guardianship serves come to us after someone noticed that an older adult was in great need or was being abused. 

Project Guardianship Proactive Role

The fiduciary nature of our caretaking of clients greatly decreases the prevalence of abuse for those in our care. We are constantly monitoring for and alert to red flags of physical or financial abuse, and will investigate, resolve, or refer apparent cases of abuse and exploitation to the proper authorities and law enforcement.

Staff are trained experts on spotting elder abuse and exploitation. Our finance associates marshal and manage income and assets for clients and are trained to spot red flags of fiscal irregularities, the misappropriation of funds, and deed theft for homeowners. Our attorneys petition for restraining orders to protect clients. Our case managers work to move clients from an unsafe environment to safety, monitor family member and caretaker interactions, and keep a watchful eye on the safekeeping and the spending of a client’s personal money. 

Project Guardianship’s proactive oversight and fiduciary role in the caretaking of clients, which includes interventive and preventive measures, decreases the prevalence of abuse for clients in our care.

Research and Studies

Studies published by well-respected institutions and publications, including the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York City Department for the Aging, and the Journal of the American Geriatric Society report that:

  • One out of every ten older adults (1 out of 10) living in the community in New York State suffers from physical or psychological abuse, financial exploitation and neglect.
  • African American, Latino, poor, and isolated older adults are disproportionately victimized.
  • Victims of elder abuse are three times (3X) more likely to be at risk of premature death, four times (4X) more likely to be admitted to a nursing home and three times (3X) more likely to be admitted to a hospital.
  • Abuse is not confined to the isolation of the home environment – high rates of neglect and poor care persist in nursing homes and other long-term care settings where millions live (most of them elderly).
  • All types of abuse (including financial exploitation) cause large economic losses for the community at large and government programs and increase reliance on public programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.
  • For every case of elder abuse that comes to light, another 23 remain hidden, and the resources of older adults who have been financially exploited have often already been drastically reduced or liquidated, by the time a case of abuse is detected.
  • Cognitive impairment increases the risk of financial exploitation and close to 50% of people with dementia experience some form of abuse (including financial exploitation).

Project Guardianship’s advocacy encompasses educational and outreach efforts with external providers, agencies, and individuals on the intersection of guardianship and elder abuse and financial exploitation.