Legal, medical experts discuss abuse
Livonia — Nursing home workers, law enforcement officials, and gerontologist gathered at Madonna University on June 15 to discuss a growing problem in the United States: Elder abuse.
Hosted by the Elder Law and Advocacy Center in Redford Township, the conference on elder abuse allowed local officials a chance to learn how to spot the mistreatment and neglect of the area’s aging population.
“Elder abuse is the financial exploitation, physical and sexual abuse, homicide of people 65 and older, or people who are 18 and can’t take care of themselves,” said Robert Spada, Deputy Chief of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, who heads a special victims taskforce to fight elder abuse in Wayne County.
Spada and his unit investigate the deaths of the elderly, citing many examples where older individuals passed away to “natural causes,” but upon further investigation those “natural causes” turned out to be results of neglect.
“What’s amazed me throughout my career is how many sons or daughters steal from their parents, or leave them in the care of people who aren’t responsible,” Spada said. “What we are trying to do at the prosecutor’s office is work with police to help spot elder abuse.
The conference also featured a panel of state workers discussing what’s being done to combat elder abuse in metro Detroit, putting a spotlight on gaps in the system which allow for elder abuse.
Bradley Geller is the director of the Michigan Center for Law and Aging in Ann Arbor. He cites Michigan’s lax licensing requirements for professional guardians who are supposed to care for the state’s elderly population.
“Here in Michigan, we have state-enabled neglect and exploitation through the guardianship program,” Geller said, citing cases where seniors are neglected by state-appointed guardians who were hired to care for them, but end up exploiting seniors for financial gain.
Geller said guardians with no scruples work to acquire as many clients as possible, providing more and more ‘targets’ they could potentially exploit.
“A guardian has to visit at least once every three months, but I’ve seen cases where a guardian did 37 visits in a day, where the ‘15-minute’ visit was really just a knock on the door,” Geller said.
Geller advised the conference attendees and seniors he works with in the field to create an “Advance Directive,” a legal document stating what a senior’s wishes are in how they would like to be cared for should they no longer have the capacity to take care of themselves.
The conference also detailed how a society enables elder abuse from how it looks at aging and the impact ageism has on caring for the needs and concerns of the elderly.
Dr. Gwendolyn Graddy, medical director of PACE Southeast Michigan (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly), presented statistics on gerontology in the United States.
“As the population ages, the risk factor of elder abuse is greater,” Graddy said. “We’re now seeing the impact of ageism and elder abuse on a person’s likelihood to have dementia.”
Graddy concluded the best way to care for older Americans in the future is to first address the frequency of elder abuse and how it impacts the quality of life for seniors being abused.
“We need to reframe how we address ageism, how we look at older populations in the country,” Graddy said. “We have a concern with this attitude toward how we treat older people. We are conditioned to think memory loss is just ‘part of getting older,’ but it’s not, sometimes, it’s a result of elder abuse.”
The conference concluded with Heather Kresbaugh of the United States Postal Inspection Service, who discussed how seniors are the targets of scammers.
“At Texas Tech, a study found that once a person reaches 65, their ability to make sound financial decisions decreases,” Kresbaugh said. “At the Postal Service, we’re now stressing to seniors how to protect their identity.”
Kresbaugh said that identity theft targets seniors disproportionately, but everybody can be susceptible to it, so there is no shame in asking for help.
“Nearly 40 percent of seniors rank fraud as their biggest fear, higher than health, crime or terrorism,” Kresbaugh said. “Perps know seniors have social security checks, they have their life savings. That’s why we want to work with seniors, if you get something suspicious in the mail, contact the police.”