Recognizing Signs of Cognitive Impairment and Elder Abuse From Your Loved One

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot & Never Thought Upon—
Recognizing Signs of Cognitive Impairment and Elder Abuse From Your Loved One

When visiting or checking in with your older relatives—whether it be Mom and Dad or a cherished Aunt or Uncle—it is important to look for signs of cognitive impairment and whether those loved ones are at-risk of being abused or exploited.

Such abuse or exploitation is termed Elder Abuse—and it is a crime in the State of Alabama. Elder abuse encompasses everything from physical, psychological, and sexual abuse to neglect and financial exploitation.

Possible signs of elder abuse are—

  • Change Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment.
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
  • Sudden change in alertness and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses or those who should be in a position of trust are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also signs.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations may also be the result of exploitation.

The Protecting Alabama Elder’s Act provides for criminal penalties for financial exploitation of Alabama’s elders (age 60 and older). Any exploitation of money or property exceeding $2,500 is a Class B felony in Alabama.

In 2010, an estimated $2.9 Billion was lost due to elder financial exploitation. Many elders are exploited through scams offering big pay outs or announcing that the elder person has won a contest but must provide information or pay money to cover transfer taxes. Schemes like the Jamaican lottery, the Grandparent Scam, and scammers posing as IRS tax debt collection callers all prey on the elderly. Once these older Americans have transferred money to these con artists some seniors begin to question the legitimacy of the caller. Many of these scams then turn to extortion and threats of harm if the senior citizen does not continue to pay money. Some of these scams have led older Americans to commit suicide due to stress or shame from getting wrapped up with these scammers.

These con-artists, scammers, and criminals prey on the elderly for a number of reasons: (1) many senior citizens have substantial retirement savings; (2) often times older Americans tend to live alone without the benefit of another family member safeguarding their physical and financial well-being; and (3) some, but not all, of our senior citizens suffer from cognitive impairment due to dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease.

Some possible signs of financial exploitation are: (1) unexplained withdrawals of large sums or large transactions; (2) abrupt changes in a will or other financial/legal documents; (3) sudden transfer of assets to a family member or acquaintance; (4) complaints of stolen or misplaced credit cards, pension checks, etc.; (5) a recent acquaintance who suddenly takes up residence with an elderly person; and (6) re-direction of an older person’s mail. When signs of elder abuse are present your loved one may benefit from both physical and financial protection from further abuse or exploitation. In some cases, it may be necessary to pursue a Guardianship or Conservatorship over that loved one and have them classified as a person in need of protection.

A Guardianship provides a court appointed family member or official with decision-making authority and responsibility over the protected person’s personal affairs. These personal affairs that a Guardian oversees mainly consist of support, care, health, habilitation, therapeutic treatment, and if not inconsistent with an order of commitment or custody, where the protected person shall reside. A Conservatorship appoints a Conservator who is tasked with protecting and conserving the protected person’s assets and income to provide for their proper care and maintenance.

When visiting friends and family remember that memory lapses are not always indicative of greater cognitive impairment. It could simply be a simple case of forgetfulness—young or old—who doesn’t occasionally forget where they placed their car keys? When mom or dad, however, start to confuse the microwave with the oven or cannot remember a family member or old friend’s name this could be indicative of some sort of cognitive impairment. It may be time to encourage your loved one to visit their physician and undergo an examination testing their memory and cognitive functions and ensure that they have a proper legal framework in place—such as a power of attorney—in the event they subsequently become disabled or incapacitated due to illness or injury.

Anytime when you are gathering together with family and friends take time to catch up and be thankful for life’s blessings—but also look for signs of possible cognitive impairments and/or elder abuse. Encourage loved ones to take the time and effort to execute a legal framework such as a financial power of attorney and an advanced health care directive appointing a trust family member or loved one to make important decisions for them should they no longer be able to do so themselves. If you see signs of elder abuse contact the elder care, probate, and estate planning attorneys at Martinson & Beason, P.C. at 256-533-1667, and/or the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) Adult Protective Services to discuss your concerns and explore the possibility or need for a Guardianship and/or Conservatorship for your loved one.