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Five Tips to Protect Against Elder Abuse during the Covid-19 Pandemic

September 24, 2020

Five Tips to Protect Against Elder Abuse during the Covid-19 Pandemic

“If you do not hand over your Social Security check, I will not go grocery shopping for you and you will have to go to a nursing home.” One can only imagine how highly influential such a statement could be on a vulnerable individual.  

As we experience living in the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic times, we have learned that elders are particularly susceptible to the effects of this illness. As a result, many precautions have been taken to protect this demographic, especially with respect to exposure to the virus. Data has shown that elders with their comorbidity factors are more likely to have dire consequences to the virus infection and have a higher likelihood of death. This has led the Hitchman Fiduciaries’ Team to limit exposure, as much as possible, to this community and who are already under our care. The unfortunate by-product of quarantines is an increased level of isolation, and with isolation comes increased levels of susceptibility to elder abuse.

This increased level of isolation can make the circle of trusted individuals, who surround an elderly person, even more critical in their care. However, his or her trusted support system may not have the same access to the elderly person. This can result in less due diligence being done on the part of family and friends, along with an increase in the level of influence from others within that circle, for example caregivers who are able to see the elder on a regular or perhaps daily basis. A very delicate balance of support can be upset that could trigger more opportunities for abuse, considering the elder may have to rely on individuals outside their circle to get their daily-living activities satisfied or for activities they been able to do for themselves. For example, grocery shopping, may now no longer be safe. Duke Han a researcher from the University of Southern California notes a “massive increase in reports of elder abuse during the pandemic.” https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/elder-abuse-appears-to-be-climbing-during-the-pandemic-experts-say

Research shows a significant portion of elder abuse occurs at the hands of someone known to the elder. Certainly, the pandemic has put significant pressure on many individuals and this may lead to a bigger temptation for financial exploitation. Given that the support balance has already been harmed, pressured individuals may take advantage of the elder’s situation, either through undue influence or outright taking of assets.

How can we mitigate the risk to our loved elders?

  1. Even though a traditional physical visit may not be possible, try to see the cherished elder in other creative ways—through a window, outside and other ways to ensure safe social distancing. For those afflicted with cognitive decline, seeing your actual face may trigger much more than your voice without the visual.
  2. Consider using FaceTime and Zoom. While it is not the same as a hug, having a visual and auditory link will help the elder be more connected.
  3. Make frequent, short telephone calls, perhaps even more than one a day.
  4. Consider a regular routine of contact so that the elder can look forward and anticipate the contact, perhaps even giving the senior a written schedule. Just do not make it so rigid that you can’t maintain a consistent schedule.
  5. Have regularly contact with caregivers, neighbors, and facilities’ staff regarding your loved one. By doing this, you are sending a strong message that this elder has a strong, attentive circle of trusted individuals who are going to notice and act accordingly if something is not right.

Author: Lee Ann Hitchman, Founding Partner and Professional Fiduciary