Earlier this year, D.C. Council member Anita Bonds reintroduced legislation to combat elder abuse.
The at-large councilwoman noted that elder abuse counts as a growing problem that’s affected District residents and seniors around the nation.
The Elder Abuse Response Team Act was reintroduced to establish the District of Columbia Elder Abuse Response Team (EART), a partnership of public and private agencies that will coordinate a high-quality, multidisciplinary, victim-centered response to elder abuse.
The legislation complemented Bonds’ 2015 bill, titled the Financial Exploitation of Vulnerable Adults Amendment Act, which assists seniors in obtaining quality living without fear of financial exploitation or abuse.
The bill’s reintroduction followed the passage of the District of Columbia Department on Aging and Community Living Amendment Act of 2018, which Bonds introduced to elevate the District of Columbia Office on Aging to the status of “department.”
The focus on elder abuse was the subject of a recent WalletHub report.
The report noted that elder abuse occurs regularly and in many forms. Women and those with disabilities who rely on others for care are especially at risk.
One estimate said elder abuse affects as many as 5 million people per year, and more than 95 percent of all cases go unreported.
“Unless states take action to prevent further abuse, the problem will grow as America becomes an increasingly aging nation,” according to researchers at WalletHub.
The U.S. Census Bureau expects the population of those 65 and older to nearly double from 43.1 million in 2012 to 83.7 million in 2050, mostly due to baby boomers who began turning 65 in 2011. And by just 2030, one in five U.S. residents will be retirement age.
Financial abuse and exploitation is another problem facing seniors.
In 2018, District of Columbia officials took additional steps toward helping financial advisors protect their senior citizen clients from fraud.
They accomplished this with the approval of the Senior Safe Act that encourages advisors and their firms to report the financial exploitation of senior citizen clients by protecting advisors from liability and the violation of privacy laws.
Wells Fargo shared the results of its 2018 Wells Fargo Elder Needs Survey that asked older residents about the financial issues they’re facing. They also released an Elder Financial Abuse Protect Guide to outline steps on how seniors can protect themselves.
“When seniors don’t take intentional steps to plan for the longevity of their later years, they are posing themselves a greater threat,” John Allen, Wells Fargo’s D.C. Region Bank president, said at the time. “The question isn’t ‘will I ever be targeted,’ it is ‘when.’ Which should then be followed by, ‘Am I prepared to stop it?’”
While some states and the District have recognized that elder abuse is a real and growing issue, WalletHub officials said only some are fighting hard enough to stop it.
WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia based on 14 key indicators of elder-abuse protection in 3 overall categories.
The personal finance website’s data set ranges from “share of elder-abuse, gross-neglect, and exploitation complaints” to “financial elder-abuse laws.”
They found that Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Nevada had the best elder abuse protections in the country. Just as important, the District and Alaska had the highest total of long-term care ombudsman program funding.
The District also had the most certified volunteer ombudsmen and the highest quality of nursing homes.
Ombudsmen are advocates for residents of nursing homes, board and care homes, and assisted living facilities.
Marguerite Irene DeLiema, a WalletHub expert and research scholar at the Stanford Center on Longevity, said it’s important to remember that families are the gatekeepers.
First, before a need arises, the older adult should assign multiple trusted people to oversee their financial affairs should a need arise in the future, not just one person, DeLiema said.
“Second, families should carefully vet and oversee all hired caregivers and not give them access to the older person’s financial accounts,” she said. “Older adults should use automatic bill pay, go paperless for all financial and health insurance docs, require a co-signer on checks, use convenience accounts with their caregivers for day-to-day purchase needs, have a designated POA or two, and have many open discussions about their financial wishes and needs with the family.
“Families should also try to be as involved as possible in their loved one’s social life,” DeLiema said.
For the complete study, go to wallethub.com.