Don’t let the abuse continue
Elder abuse is a growing problem that affects thousands of people in Nevada that are elderly or vulnerable. A recent report estimates that in the United States 96 percent of elder abuse goes unreported, says WalletHub, 2016.
Nevada law now recognizes that as people age and become subject to disabling conditions and frailty, they are less likely to stand up to intimidation and bullying or recognize manipulative acts. Elder abuse is a crime under Nevada law and punishes abusers for intentional abuse and exploitation as well as neglect. The law protects the vulnerable and those 60 years of age or older acts that would result in personal injury, death, or financial loss. Unfortunately, it is most often the people trusted to be caregivers that cause the abuse.
Elder abuse and elder exploitation can take many forms. Some abusers take cash and property, while others stealthily seek to acquire an interest in an elderly person’s estate. I have also seen abusers even seek to accelerate a decline in a vulnerable person’s health in order to reduce healthcare costs to protect the size of the abusers inheritance.
Sometimes abuse happens where we least expect it. In October of this last year, a registered nurse at a local residential care facility was arrested and charged with elder abuse for having ordered employees not to provide care to a specific patient. In that case, the nurse was motivated to have the patient removed from the facility. However, the motivation I most often see is financial gain.
In my law practice, I have identified several common red flags that indicate abuse may be occurring. The most common indicator of abuse and exploitation I see is ISOLATION. Nevada law defines isolation as an intentional restraint of an elderly or vulnerable person from having contact with family or friends. Isolation can in some instances be identified by a significant change in a vulnerable person’s sentiment towards family and friends. If grandma is suddenly angry with all other family members except for the caregiver for no apparent reason, an abuser may be in her ear manipulating her to gain control.
Another red flag of abuse and exploitation is what I call jealous control: Jealous control exists when an abuser has seized the power to make medical and financial decisions for a vulnerable person and is jealously guarding the power by withholding information from family or friends. Jealous control most frequently occurs when the vulnerable adult has lost their mental faculties and the abuser is hiding his or her own bad acts through control of information. Abusers employing jealous control tend to be easily angered and avoid contact with anyone that could have an interest in interfering.
DECEIT: is a dead giveaway of abuse and exploitation. Anytime you find that a caregiver has lied about the vulnerable person’s financial or medical condition, or even about family contact, it is likely that some level of abuse is occurring. Deceit can be hard to identify when inquiries are met with responses that are short and reassuring. However, you cannot be afraid to dig. More often than not, abusers’ true colors shine through when they know you’re not buying into their non-responsive or oversimplified responses.
If a caregiver does put on an unjustified display of anger and intimidation over simple questions concerning financial and medical decisions or care, it is likely that the vulnerable or elderly person is subject to some level of abuse.
The most common type of abuse is neglect: With neglect the red flags are generally quite obvious. Thus, if a vulnerable or elderly person appears to be suffering from poor hygiene, poor nutrition, or a lack of medical treatment or care, it is likely that he or she is being neglected or abused.
Because this is a serious societal problem, we all have a moral duty to protect the elderly and vulnerable from abuse. If you see the red flags and reasonably suspect abuse, exploitation or neglect, make it your business, and make a confidential report to Elder Protective Services (EPS) of the Nevada Aging and Disability Services Division. EPS can be reached by phone at 888-729-0571.
In situations of an emergency, you should always contact law enforcement immediately. Here, in Douglas County, I have found that the Public Guardian, Nicole Thomas, and her staff are very helpful and informative and are willing to give direction and assistance where elder abuse is suspected.
You can reach the Douglas County Public Guardian’s Office by calling (775) 782-6216.
Michael G. Millward, Esq., is an estate planning and business attorney. Michael formerly practiced with Cassandra Jones at Heritage Law Group, and recently started his own firm, Millward Law, Ltd. He is a resident of Douglas County, and he practices in state and federal courts in Northern Nevada. He can be reached at 775-600-2776.