You might think someone is scamming your parent or emotionally or physically abusing them. What if you think that your parent is neglecting himself, not bathing or changing his clothes for long intervals of time, not eating right or taking her meds? How do you protect the elderly from abuse and scams?
These distressing situations affect more people than you may think. Many people who do not lack legal capacity, the standard required for guardianship, are scammed, manipulated and exploited, become depressed or lose interest in life and in taking care of themselves. Others, distressed at their ever-increasing loss of control of their bodies, their minds, and the world around them, or are hungry for more attention and care than may be reasonably available, are themselves emotionally and financially manipulative, driving their relatives “nuts” and, sometimes, driving them away. 2-5% of older people living in the community become deluded, convinced that someone is trying to harm them, that their medicine is poison, that their children are robbing them.
If this describes what is happening in your own family, you may only get so far by talking with your elderly relative and other family members, friends or caregivers who seem to be involved and knowledgeable.
Adult Protective Services: What happens when you call APS?
You may need to enlist the help of Adult Protective Services. Whether the problem is with your elderly relative or with someone else, you can file an anonymous report at http://www.txabusehotline.org. If the person is in immediate danger, call 1-800-252-5400.
Adult Protective Services will respond within 24 hours. The time within which a caseworker will visit the person and talk with others varies with the degree of perceived danger. Adult Protective Services can access bank records without a subpoena. They can offer services. But your elderly relative does not need to accept them.
When you suspect fraudulent activity or scammers are at work
If someone is using your relative’s Social Security, you can help her redirect it to a new bank account (1-800-772-1231). This can take up to 90 days.
If needed, your relative’s VA benefits can flow through a VA fiduciary (1-800-887-4000).
If telephone scammers are at work, some help can be gotten by using the Do Not Call Registry (1-888-382-1222). It might be time to get a telephone which blocks calls from unknown numbers. There are also phones which, instead of numbered buttons, have pictures of people. If heedless spending or charitable giving has become a problem, you do not need to include pictures of QVC, Amazon or the charities.
You may need to help your relative put a freeze on his credit, contacting the three credit rating agencies (Experian 1-888-397-3748; TransUnion 1-800-680-7289; Equifax 1-888-766-0008). If there has been securities fraud, you may need to help your relative call the Securities Helpline for Seniors (1-844-5743). General consumer fraud should be reported to the Texas Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division (1-800-621-0508).
What if the issue is with your elderly relative?
If the problem lies with your relative, you may need an assessment by a geriatric care manager. You may need him examined and treated by a geriatric psychiatrist experienced with delusions. As a last resort, you may even need to apply for guardianship, hoping that your relative will participate in an examination.
While it may shock you, you may also need to defend yourself if someone else files a report with Adult Protective Services. This may be a relative or a caregiver who does not fully understand the situation. It may be your elderly family member herself. Too often people turn on those who have cared for them for years and imagine that a “prodigal son” or “new friend” is the one who really cares for, and will take care of, them. It can be heart-breaking. Since Adult Protective Services will have access to the bank records and deed records are public, the facts should speak for themselves, at least in this regard.
But what if the accusations are not about current finances? What if you are accused of trying to persuade an elderly relative to change her Durable Power of Attorney or Will to favor you or to exclude someone else but you had nothing to do with it? Refer Adult Protective Services to the drafting attorney.
What if you are accused of neglect or abuse? If you have kept a log showing what you did when, that may go a long way toward showing that you are a conscientious caregiver.
Whatever written evidence you may or may not have and whoever may or may not speak on your behalf, try to keep calm. This is a very upsetting development. But by being open with the caseworker and showing that you have nothing to hide, you will help her reach a reasoned conclusion.
Elder law attorney, Terry Garrett, is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is an Approved Guardianship Attorney. She assists people in elder law, estate and special needs planning, guardianship and settling estates. She graduated with honors from Cornell University. She was on the Dean’s List at Wharton Business School. She earned her J.D. at Columbia Law School, receiving the Parker Award and a Mellon Fellowship.