Financial exploitation is among most common forms of elder abuse.
I proudly display a bumper magnet that reads “No Excuse for Elder Abuse,” which rings true to my passion for preventing elder abuse. I often tell my colleagues and family and friends that the state of Maine is among the states in the nation with the oldest residential population, which always surprises them.
In fact according to U.S. News & World Report, seven states have a median population age above 40: Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Florida, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. It’s pretty amazing to think about Maine like Florida in this regard. I ask you: “What will you do with this newfound knowledge? Will you become an advocate for the elderly?” I did.
My grandmother, who lives in Florida, was victimized, and my living in Maine made it extremely difficult to help her. She lived alone while enduring the early stages of dementia, which made driving difficult. She had a handsome and friendly next door neighbor she would speak highly of, who offered to help her out. He certainly did help her out, while helping himself to the tune of $20,000. It took our family some time to realize what was happening to her finances and to convince her to let us help her; however, by then much damage had already been done.
What if I had known the warning signs and red flags for financial exploitation? What if I had been able to act sooner? What if someone at her local bank could have helped her? Would any of these have made a difference? I say yes.
Financial exploitation is among the most common forms of elder abuse. In fact, financial exploitation is self-reported more than emotional, physical and sexual abuse or neglect at a rate of 41 per 1,000 surveyed. There is a significant cost associated with financial exploitation, which robbed elders of an estimated $2.9 billion in 2009, the most recent year for which we have data.
It is imperative that education and awareness are the primary focus for our elderly residents, anyone who works with these individuals, and family members of older adults. Preventing elder abuse is a community initiative with a community solution. Prevention needs to include our law enforcement, health care providers, churches, banks and credit unions and victim advocates. It is imperative to support and fund grassroots efforts that involve a variety of disciplines working together toward ending elder abuse in Maine.
I didn’t know such groups existed until I was asked to join the Education and Awareness Committee, which is part of the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention. This group has provided me a means to promote elder abuse prevention throughout the state. Its grassroots efforts and interdisciplinary collaborations helped to foster an environment that embraced the Senior$afe project, which has become a trusted resource for many Maine financial institutions.
Senior$afe is a collaborative project between Maine financial institutions, Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation and the Office of Aging and Disability Services. Senior$afe is an informative brochure, accompanied by training for frontline bank and credit union staff, that teaches Mainers about protecting their money and financial accounts from scams, exploitation and identity theft. This brochure provides the reader with resource contact numbers, assessing vulnerabilities and some quick tips on protecting their finances. This information is applicable to all ages, but has a focus on the seniors in our state.
We all have the basic right to age with dignity and to do so with the assurance of our safety, whether it is physical, emotional, mental or financial. I want us all to promote a culture of loving community and our older Mainers. Many of our community members are already older adults and we all will be elders one day. The time to make a difference is now. Let’s start treating our future selves and Maine’s older adults with the dignity and love they deserve.
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Preventing elder abuse is a community initiative with a community solution