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Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation in an Aging America
husbands die or lose the capacity to manage their finances, these women make particularly good targets for perpetrators who offer “help” but instead exploit available assets.
Regardless of gender, a lack of familiarity with financial matters in general or the means of conducting a particular financial transaction enhances the likelihood of financial abuse (Choi et al., 1999; Choi and Mayer, 2000; National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, 2001). Changes in and unfamiliarity with the means by which financial transactions are conducted, including electronic transactions, add to this vulnerability. The risk of financial abuse may also be increased when the elder person is uncomfortable speaking about financial issues (Rush and Lank, 2000). In general, elders who own a house, a substantial and visible asset, are more likely to be exploited (Choi et al., 1999; Choi and Mayer, 2000).
Other factors identified as increasing the likelihood of financial abuse focus on the social status of the elder person. Identified risk factors include an elder person’s social isolation, loneliness, and recent loss of loved ones (Bernatz et al., 2001; Choi and Mayer, 2000; Hwang, 1996; National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, 2001; Podnieks, 1992; Quinn, 2000; Tueth, 2000; Wilber and Reynolds, 1996). Having family members who are unemployed or who have substance abuse problems have also been identified as placing an elder person at greater risk of financial abuse (National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, 2001). Similarly, when a relative is the elder person’s only social support, the risk of financial exploitation may be increased (Choi et al., 1999). Conversely, having family members who are actively involved in good faith in assisting with or managing the financial affairs of the elderly has been determined to diminish the risk that the elderly will experience financial abuse (Rush and Lank, 2000). However, a combination of denial of a need for such assistance, busy lives, and a reluctance to confront difficult issues may keep many family members from such involvement (Rush and Lank, 2000). It has also been noted that little is known about the close bonds that develop naturally between the elderly and their caregivers, particularly when services are provided the elderly within their homes, and what leads to financial abuse (Quinn, 2000).
Physical or mental disabilities of elder persons have also been identified as risk factors, including medical problems that limit their ability to understand and comprehend financial issues and impairments that create dependency on others (Bernatz et al., 2001; Choi et al., 1999; Giordano et al., 1992; Hwang, 1996; National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, 2001; Podnieks, 1992; Tueth, 2000; Wilber and Reynolds, 1996). However, it has been argued that the extent to which older persons are vulnerable to financial abuse is more directly related to the circumstances in