The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently released a report that uncovered major holes in the state data collection on the financial abuse of seniors. This, investigators say, has made it all but impossible to accurately gauge the scope of a serious issue. The findings, including state-level data from Maine, were presented at the Senate Special Committee on Aging recently, with the goal of determining more effective ways to prevent, identify, and address instances of financial abuse and exploitation of seniors. The Committee Chairwoman is Susan Collins (R-Maine), an outspoken advocate on elder affairs and protection of the elderly.
Data collection on this issue is done at the state and local levels, so federal authorities up to this point haven’t had much influence. Now, the Department of Health and Human Services plans to launch a data collection program that aims to help experts in curbing elderly exploitation. Even the information we do have suggests this is a major problem, with one 2015 study indicating the national annual financial loss from exploitation of elders is approximately $37 billion. Furthermore, these losses are occurring at a rate that study authors say is “alarming.” This newest GAO report, The Extent of Elder Abuse by Guardians is Unknown, but Some Measures Exist to Help Protect Older Adults, is the first time someone has looked closely at the issue of elder financial abuse since 2010, according to The Portland Press-Herald.
Although there is strong evidence to suggest that financial abuse of the elderly is most often perpetrated by adult children, nieces, nephews, and other relatives or guardians, exploitation by caretakers in nursing homes is another issue. It can be a direct indication of the facility’s failure to protect the resident, and it can also be a red flag that other forms of elder abuse are going on as well.