A recent report indicates elder abuse has increased 8.5% in Wisconsin from 2008 to 2009. The report notes that this increase "signals better communication between law enforcement, health care professionals and social service agencies, which leads to more people recognizing signs of abuse and neglect and helping to ensure the safety of our older residents."
Increased awareness and a stronger reporting structure provide a more accurate picture of the state of the elderly in Wisconsin. Accurate documentation of elder abuse is key to establishing a baseline from which to measure improvements.
The Wisconsin State Journal, in an article discussing the report, noted other reasons for the increase in elder abuse reports as including a larger number of elderly as the baby boomers age as well as the poor economy. Financial abuse is a significant component of the overall picture of abuse. An elderly parent may make an easy target for an unscrupulous or desperate person. There may also increased opportunity for financial abuse, as adult children move back in with their parents. This can allow access to cash, bank accounts and the ability to improperly influence or force their will on potentially aged or infirm parents.
While the report probably does not indicate a huge increase in the amount of elder abuse, 7% of the incidents were life-threatening and of those, 21.4% resulted in the death.
One surprising finding was that 79% of the abuse occurs in the elders own home or apartment. This is explained by the fact that the majority of the elderly still live in their own homes. Another interesting element of the report notes that 17% of the abusers are financially dependent on the elders they abuse.
Also notable is that 40% of the abusers are either sons or daughters of the abused. This again reinforces that this is often a crime of opportunity. While 30% of abuse victims have someone with substitute decision making authority, such as power of attorney for finances or healthcare, 70% of the abusers have no valid legal authority to make decisions.
This report reinforces that nursing homes aren't the only places were elder abuse occurs. If you have siblings who are looking after your parents and something doesn't seem quite right, take the time to investigate, ask questions and if you suspect something wrong is happening, speak with an attorney knowledgeable about elder abuse. They can tell you what to look for and, if necessary, investigate the situation and offer counsel on how to proceed.