As the Baby Boomers turn 65 (at the rate of one every 10 seconds), more and more Americans will find themselves faced with some potentially difficult realities. Among those is recognizing when a loved one may need help at home. It is important to communicate with your loved ones and let them know why you are worried and that you want to help. The best solutions will be the ones worked out together.
Here are some signs that may indicate someone needs help:
Are appointments missed or bills not getting paid? Are common objects being put in illogical places. Perhaps medication is being incorrectly or not at all.
If you notice any of these, an assessment (both medical and cognitive) may be in order to determine what is going on and to come up with some options. Knowing the cause means effective treatments can be put in place, keeping your loved one safe.
- Difficulty Getting Around
Are your loved ones having trouble moving around or getting in and out of chairs? A two-story house could be problematic and create a much higher fall risk. Check for slippery tiles and furniture that creates obstacles.
A cane or walker may be all that is needed. In some cases, modifications to the house may be possible. The goal is not get your loved one to leave the home, but rather to come up together with viable options that keep them safe.
- Unusual Amount of Clutter
Is there dirty laundry or unopened mail in a home that is historically meticulously clean? This could be a sign of cognitive decline, or simply that the house is getting to be too much to handle. A conversation could help determine what is needed: a housekeeper, gardener, or a more significant geriatric makeover.
- Change in Personality
Are there changes in personality? Are your loved ones accusing people of taking their things, or exhibiting other paranoid behavior?
This could be a sign of dementia. An appointment with a medical doctor for a cognitive assessment could be important to establish a base line from which to gauge any further decline. If dementia is diagnosed, that in itself does not mean that your loved one cannot participate in the decision-making process; the severity of the dementia will have more of an impact on their inclusion in the conversation. However, dementia will mean that at some point they will not be able to make decisions and now is the time to make certain all legal and medical documents are in order.
It is important to remember that needing assistance does not necessarily mean leaving the home. It may be that extra help in the home environment is all that is needed to keep your loved one safe and healthy. A care manager or elder law attorney may be able to assist with determining what extra services are needed and where to look for help.
Here is an interesting article regarding the difficulty in treating dementia, written by Jürgen Götz of CNN.
Dementia is not going away – in fact, it will continue to increase as we become an older and older population. With the major pharmaceutical companies determining that it is uneconomical to continue researching treatment, I am thankful for individual citizens, such as Bill Gates, who are taking on this daunting task.
Why It’s So Hard to Treat Dementia
Elder financial abuse. Called the “crime of the century,” it involves a broad spectrum of crimes against those aged 65 or older. Some examples of elder financial abuse are:
- Taking money or property from an elderly person
- Forging an elderly person’s signature
- Using an older person’s property or possessions without permission
- Getting an older person to sign over property via a deed, will, trust, or power of attorney, through deception, coercion, or undue influence
The elderly are attractive targets for a variety of reasons. They control the vast majority of the nation’s wealth, yet fail to realize the true value of their assets. They are likely to have disabilities resulting in dependence on others. Predators assume that, because the elderly can be frail, that they will not survive long enough to follow through on legal interventions.
Sadly, many abusers are family members. There are also unscrupulous professionals who may overcharge for products, or who use their positions of trust to gain compliance. Then there are the predators who seek out vulnerable seniors with the intent to exploit them.
Even more sad are the cases where the family is trying to care for their elderly loved one, and because of a lack of legal knowledge, inadvertently commit elder abuse. I have seen this and it is heart-wrenching. In this situation, assets were signed over from the parent to the child as a way of being able to access them and use them for the parent’s benefit. However, because the parent did not have the capacity to understand what they were signing, the actions amounted to elder abuse and when a “not-so-good” child caught wind of it, that child filed an elder abuse action and the care-giving child lost everything.
If you are caring for, or involved with, an elderly person on any level, be on the lookout for some of the signs that elder financial abuse may be occurring, such as:
- Unpaid bills, eviction notices, or notices to discontinue services
- Withdrawals from bank accounts that the older person cannot explain
- New “best friends,” especially those who want to keep you from your loved one
- Legal documents, such as powers of attorney, which the older person did not understand at the time they were signed
If you suspect elder financial abuse, please do not be silent. The National Center on Elder Abuse’s website (http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/Stop_Abuse/Get_Help/State/index.aspx) has links to each state’s resource directory, which will include a Helpline to report suspected elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
If you have access to the financial assets of an elderly person, seek out the advice of an experience probate law attorney so that you don’t fall into the same scenario as the one I described above. The only thing more heart-breaking than caring for a loved one who is losing their capacity to dementia, is doing so and then realizing that you have committed financial elder abuse and are being prosecuted for it.