Huffington Center Supports National Effort

The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization launched World Elder Abuse Awareness Day June 15, 2006. Since then, on each June 15, governmental entities educational institutions and other organizations recognize the ongoing need to prevent elder abuse in all its forms – physical, emotional, neglect, and financial.

The Huffington Center on Aging supports this important national public awareness effort. Elder abuse is a crime that scars the abused and their loved ones. It is also a sad fact that many family members and others in positions of trust perpetrate these acts on some of our most vulnerable citizens.

The most common form of elder abuse is financial – defined as any improper conduct done, with or without the informed consent of the senior that results in a monetary or personal gain to the abuser and to the detriment of the older adult. A MetLife Foundation study in 2011 revealed that elders lose over $3 billion annually to fraud and a survey by the non-profit Investor Protection Trust showed that one in five Americans over age 65 have been targeted by unscrupulous persons. Given the magnitude of the underreported incidence of fraud, the actual number of victims is not known but is considered huge. 

In 2009, the Investor Protection Trust funded HCOA faculty to develop a continuing medical education program to teach physicians how to screen their older patients for the cognitive impairments and other “red flags” that greatly increase their patients’ risk of being defrauded. Based on the success of the Texas pilot program, the IPT and its sister organization, the Investor Protection Institute, embarked on a nation-wide campaign in 32 states and jurisdictions.

Since 2010, over 100 CME programs have reached more than 15,000 health care professionals, raising their awareness of this issue. More recently, a parallel initiative was begun to work with attorneys and other fiduciaries on how to prevent their clients from becoming victims to the crime of elder financial abuse.

The reasons of these efforts are two-fold: 1) we must strive to maintain the dignity and independence of elders who have worked hard to have retirement nest eggs, as they simply do not have the time to recoup their losses; and 2) if elders’ losses are significant, their health and well-being can be adversely affected. The results can hasten a frail elder’s decline and in some cases result in death.

“Wealth shock” is a relatively new term in the medical literature: i.e., when 75 percent of net worth is lost suddenly, one’s risk of death within a year is greatly increased. (See this recent article: Garber, Alan W. “From Misfortune to Mortality: Sudden Loss of Wealth and Increased Risk of Death.” JAMA. 2018;319(13):1327-1328.)

Progress is being made but more public awareness of this tragedy is needed. All can help by recognizing, reporting, and referring suspected financial abuse when and wherever seen to their respective state securities agency – e.g., the Texas State Securities Board – to local law enforcement, Adult Protective Services, or other appropriate officials. The recently enacted federal SeniorSafe Act makes it easier to report elder financial exploitation as it removes any liability on the part of the person(s) reporting suspected fraud. Hopefully, this and other actions taken by concerned parties will help reduce the number of older persons victimized.

Each year’s WEAAD observance is an important day to be aware of the consequences of abuse to our seniors, whether those of today or those of tomorrow. For resources about elder investment fraud and financial exploitation see www.investorprotection.org. For a local resource, contact Dr. Robert E. Roush, professor of Geriatrics, Huffington Center on Aging, at Baylor College of medicine: rroush@bcm.edu.