RI senior advocate calls elder abuse an ‘epidemic’


Financial exploitation of the elderly is a growing problem according to Anita Corley, elderly services coordinator for the Elizabeth Buffum Chase Center. Corley, who attended a symposium on elder abuse last month in Washington, D.C., said financial institutions are seeing their own employees take advantage of elderly clients.

The Rhode Island Department of Elder Affairs nominated Corley to participate in the first ever World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Commemoration, a daylong conference on June 14 regarding elder abuse and its prevention. About 90 of the 130 people in attendance were from investment or banking institutions. Why? The high rate of financial exploitation faced by seniors.

“They’re gutsy enough to admit they’re seeing financial fraud within their own institutions, and they’re not happy about it,” she said.

Corley said those who have access to seniors’ information – sometimes even investment bankers themselves – prey on mental disabilities or general willingness to trust.

Corley said if criminals find out that seniors don’t have much family, and aren’t close with friends and neighbors, they take advantage of their situations.

“They’re perfect victims,” she said.

Conference attendees were shown video interviews of seniors who had been exploited by financial scams. One man in the video began sobbing.

“He had no money left,” explained Corley.

But it’s not just bankers taking advantage of seniors. Often, Corley sees family members taking money from accounts or Social Security checks.

In addition to the crippling personal effects of financial exploitation, Corley said the trickle-down effects are immense.

“Think about the effect it will have on all the other systems, like Medicare, Medicaid and long-term housing,” she said. “It’s excruciating.”

Corley said it has been documented that more than $3 billion was taken from seniors illegally in 2011 alone.

According to data presented at the conference, Corley said there are 50 million seniors in America today. In 2030, there will be four times that amount. The Department of Justice’s statistics showed that one in 10 seniors are victims of abuse, a number that’s down from two years ago (one in nine) but up from past notions of one in 20. Corley also noted that though one in 10 are victims, only one in 20 cases are ever reported.

In addition to financial exploitation, “elder abuse” also encompasses physical abuse seniors face from caretakers.

Corley said she had seen cases where elders are locked into rooms, neglected, physically harmed or left malnourished. Typically, she said, these things happen at the hands of the senior’s own family members. What happens after an incident is that seniors feel wedged between a rock and a hard place; they’re unwilling to go to assisted living facilities or nursing homes but have no professional care in their own homes.

“They say, ‘I see no other solution than to have the relative who harmed me, help me,’” said Corley.

Corley said elder abuse is becoming an epidemic, and believes that public awareness and education are the only way to decrease the statistics.

“We really need a public awareness campaign in the state,” said Corley. “The CDC [Centers for Disease Control] is not announcing it, and we know they’re the end all be all of the word ‘epidemic.’”

Corley said anyone who suspects elder abuse should report it to the Department of Elder Affairs. In addition, people should be more aware of elder abuse in general. She supports those at hospitals asking seniors if they’re being abused at home, and hopes that financial institutions will now be more closely attuned to suspicious activity surrounding seniors’ bank accounts.

At the conference, Corley also learned about the formation of a national Elder Justice Coordinating Council, which Corley said is partially wrapped into the Affordable Care Act. The group, which will include the U.S. Attorney General and the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, is set to meet two times per year, and in three years make five recommendations to Congress.

“I’m not that patient,” said Corley. “In three years, am I still going to be working with elders?”

She encouraged those who advocate for the elderly to continue to play an active role in communicating with representatives and senators in Washington to make ongoing changes.

Corley was pleasantly surprised that her fellow attendees at the conference commended her on her work to put an end to elder abuse in Rhode Island. Some asked her how the state went about educating people. Corley said a key factor is educating the police force, a practice that’s been in place for 16 years.

“A lot of things we do and take for granted aren’t done in other states,” she said.

It was announced at the conference that a $5.5 million Elder Abuse Prevention Interventions Program grant is going to be made available for up to eight states. Corley said she and the Elizabeth Buffum Chase Center would aggressively seek the grant to make changes in Rhode Island. Corley believes because Rhode Island is such a small state, the impact of the grant money will be greater than in larger communities.

“Not only do we have a concentrated population, we have a large concentration of elders,” she said.

Rhode Island is in the top 10 states in the country for high concentrations of seniors. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 14.4 percent of Rhode Islanders were ages 65 and older.

“We’re ninth in the nation of elders per capita,” explained Corley.

Though Corley said the conference felt slightly truncated, she did take away new insights on the elder abuse topic. Corley said the crux of what she calls an epidemic is awareness and education: “The best elder abuse case we can study is one where we prevented the abuse from happening at all,” she said.


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