Every year, the United Nation marks a special day to raise awareness of elder abuse, which is very prevalent, especially among individuals over the age of 60 with dementia.
America is, at heart, a nation built by patriots, immigrants and pioneers. At our core, we are people who are willing to fight and die for freedom. We cherish our freedoms, especially the freedom to live independently. Most adult children want to keep their parents at home as long as possible. Out of love and respect, they may hesitate to ask personal questions about their parents’ finances, legal documents, medical conditions and care, and who is coming in and out of their parents’ home when their adult children are not present.
The ugly truth is that unless a care plan is put into place and carefully managed, with appropriate checks and balances, staying home alone can be isolating and can expose an individual, especially one living with dementia, to a heightened risk of abuse. I am not just being alarmist.
Consider what happened in the actual case of Sally Dinoia. In the matter of the guardianship of Sally Dinoia, Docket No. A-5276-17T3 (N.J.App.Div. December 26, 2019). Sally was 85 years old, widowed with several children, and was living in her former marital home with her adult son, John. John had cared for her for years. Someone raised a concern about Sally’s well-being and Adult Protective Services (APS) investigated. She was noted to have poor hygiene, fungus and bug bites on her body. Bedbugs were discovered in her home and on her person. An exterminator was called to treat her home, but John refused to let the exterminator inside. John interfered with the attempts of a physician to examine his mother and filed litigation against APS and the local police, which were both responsible for various aspects of the investigation into his mother’s welfare.
The APS failed to investigate Sally’s finances as required. Eventually, a guardian was appointed for Sally, and that guardian was faced with the colossal task of opposing John, who was extremely litigious, in court. In the process, counsel for the guardian racked up a legal bill of over $43,000, which Sally had no money to pay. APS, which did not investigate as it should have, was ordered to pay the bill, resulting in an appeal brought by APS to overturn the judge’s order requiring APS to pay Sally’s bill.
As you can see from Sally’s case, trying to clean up the elder abuse can be like trying to wade through quicksand. A much better option is to put a plan into place at the first moment you are reasonably sure that something more than ordinary aging or an adjustment reaction to a stressful situation is responsible for your aging parent’s memory or behavioral issues.
Here are some important steps you can take to prevent elder abuse before it happens.