Authorities say that cases have cropped up across the country during the pandemic, contributing to a surge in elder abuse—which is defined as an intentional or negligent act that harms someone 60 or older in a physical, emotional, or financial way.

The Wall Street Journal’s recent article entitled “Elder Abuse Spreads, Stoked by the Pandemic” reports that the number of elder-fraud victims increased 55% between 2019 and 2020, the latest data available, according to an FBI report on internet crime.

Another study from Yale in January 2021 found that more than one in five older people living in homes or apartments, as opposed to facilities, reported abuse in April and May 2020 (when all states had stay-at-home orders). That is an 83.6% increase over pre-pandemic prevalence estimates.

Elder abuse cases, which have been on the increase for years, are expected to continue climb after the pandemic because of our aging population and the shortage of trained and licensed caregivers. Low pay and burnout cause many to leave the field, both in private in-home care and nursing homes. Social connections, lost in the pandemic, are harder for older adults to restore, increasing the likelihood of isolation—a key risk factor in abuse.

Stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures left older adults isolated and at times sheltering with abusers—in some cases, family, or caregivers— who threatened to send them to a nursing home or cough on them, if they didn’t give them money. In fact, they used COVID-19 as a weapon.

Social workers and others who investigate reports of abuse and neglect were unable to see vulnerable older adults in person. Moreover, short-staffed long-term-care facilities relied on questionable temporary workers. In addition, law-enforcement budgets were cut.

As a result, the pandemic created other opportunities for exploitation, such as the way many real-estate transactions moved online. This made it easier to steal from older, unsuspecting property owners.  That was especially true of seniors who have no mortgage. As a result, there is no lender with oversight.

Most cases of abuse involve a family member, which makes them harder to detect and thwart. Family members also frequently don’t recognize signs of abuse or don’t think another family member would be capable of it.

In the pandemic, they didn’t visit older parents to see what was happening in the house.

Reference: Wall Street Journal (Dec. 28, 2021) “Elder Abuse Spreads, Stoked by the Pandemic”

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