7 Tragic Ways The Elderly Have Been Exploited

This is a guest article contributed by Forest Healthcare; who specialize in care homes, nursing homes and residential homes for the elderly.

Today’s seniors are more active and independent than ever before.  In many cases, the rocking chair stereotype of the elderly no longer holds true.  Yet in spite of many seniors’ active lifestyles, the elderly population continues to be a target of exploitation.  Some types of exploitation may seem relatively harmless, such as products making false claims to encourage impulse buys.  Other types of exploitation are much more serious, and elder abuse could be life threatening to the victims, especially if they are physically frail or suffering from dementia.  Here are some of the tragic ways the senior population has been exploited in recent years.

1. False advertising in beauty products

The old adage that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” could be applied to the beauty industry.  The cosmetics industry has long been purveyors of impossible standards of eternal youth and beauty, but in recent years the public has discovered that advertising images are routinely manipulated through digital enhancement or air brushing to attain a model’s more perfect appearance.  Concerned about false advertising, the British Advertising Standards Authority took action by banning ads featuring movie stars such as Julia Roberts and supermodels such as Christy Turlington.  The companies in questioscams targeting the elderlyn included Maybelline, Lancome, and L’Oreal.

In the United States, Lancôme received a warning letter from the Federal Drug Administration regarding its wrinkle creams, which are consistently marketed as drugs, making scientific claims that the products reduce wrinkles without having undergone the FDA’s rigorous process of approval. Avon and Clarins have also been criticized for false advertising of wrinkle creams.

  2. Deceptive advertising in health products

Who wouldn’t want to drink their way to perfect health?  Consumers hoping for a fountain of youth in liquid form were let down when it came to the product Ensure.  The nutritional beverage was marketed in the United States as doctor recommended as an effective meal replacement and supplement without proper scientific evidence to back up the claims.  Abbott Laboratories, which manufactures the drink, reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.

Similarly, POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice was marketed as having measurable benefits for the treatment or prevention of heart disease, prostate cancer, and more.  FTC Commissioners upheld a judge’s decision that the company engaged in false advertising.  These are only a few of the countless supplements, vitamins, health and energy drinks and health foods that prey on the senior consumer’s desire for perfect health by promising too much.  Buyer, beware.

3. Financial exploitation of the elderly

Deceptive advertising is not limited to food and beauty products.  It has also been used to defraud seniors out of millions.  Predatory lenders prey on seniors looking to save money and maximize their limited retirement income. Upstate Capital, Inc., in the United States was a reverse mortgage lender that marketed itself as a non-profit organization called Association for Better Living (ABL), Inc.  The company flyers and other promotional materials appeared official and stated that ABL would help seniors get a tax-free income through a new government program.  The company reached a settlement with the Attorney General’s Office of New York.

Financial exploitation of the elderly is not limited to unscrupulous businesses and con artists.  It may also strike closer to home and be perpetrated by someone who is well known to the senior, such as a caregiver or relative.  The elderly living alone independently are particularly susceptible to this type of exploitation, while those dependent upon others for care can fall victim to financial fraud combined with other forms of abuse.

To the family’s surprise, a stranger can befriend the senior, then win her trust and the right to access her bank account.  Families hiring caregivers for their loved ones are advised to conduct a thorough background check.  However, a family member, even a grown child or spouse, can also take advantage of an elder’s finances.  If financial exploitation of the elder is suspected, then examine bank statements and check signatures for unusual activity.  Bills going unpaid can also be a sign that the person in charge of the senior’s finances is mismanaging them and using them for personal gain.  Such individuals have even gained power of attorney by threatening the senior, withholding care, and sometimes without the senior fully understanding the consequences.

4. Neglect of the elderly

A rarely discussed form of senior abuse is neglect, the failure by the caregiver to provide the senior with basic necessities.  As a result the senior goes without food, medical attention, clean clothing, shelter, and other basic needs for his wellbeing, health, and protection.

Such was the case at the Parkside House in Northampton, when five residents of the nursing home passed away within two weeks of one another as a consequence of severe neglect in October 2010.  The Care Quality Commission labeled conditions at the nursing home “appalling” after conducting an investigation.  The facility was unable to meet even the most basic needs of its residents.  The CQC canceled the home’s registration.  Authorities were alerted to the situation at Parkside when a resident was admitted to the hospital with severe bedsores, dehydration, and unresponsiveness.

Other red flags indicating a lack of care could include poor hygiene, uncombed hair, and malnutrition.  Abusive caregivers can also purposely deny seniors their basic needs in order to isolate or manipulate them, as was the case with one caregiver at Oakfoss House residential care home in Pontefract, West Yorkshire.

5. Verbal and emotional abuse of seniors

Abusive caregivers can subject the seniors in their care to verbal abuse, causing mental anguish that can be just as distressing as physical abuse.  Such caregivers resort to intimidation and humiliation tactics to extort money or to exert power over the victim.

In 2011, Ivy Robinson’s daughter discovered that her mother’s caregiver Emma Bryan at Oakfoss House was subjecting her mother to brutal mental and physical abuse.  A hidden camera revealed that Bryan insulted Ivy Robinson, bullied her, denied her medication, shook her, and dragged her across the floor.  Bryan also ignored Ivy’s pleas for help.

Red flags for such treatment may include unusually withdrawn and frightened behavior in the elder, isolation, and a fear of speaking freely for fear of repercussions.

6. Violence against the elderly

Ivy’s daughter began to suspect abuse when she noticed bruises on her mother’s hands and her agitated behavior. In addition to the physical signs, a victim’s reluctance to be left alone with a caregiver, or a caregiver’s refusal to allow visitors to have private time with the senior, may be indications that verbal or physical abuse could be a problem.

All too often, violence against the elderly is perpetrated by someone they trust.  Such was the case of Joann Hornberger of Detroit, Michigan, when she was terrorized for 12 hours by her boarder, whom she had known for four years.  The boarder abused alcohol and in his altered state beat her and attempted to kill her.  Indeed, caregivers can become abusive if they are suffering from addiction problems, depend on the victim financially, or are simply unprepared for the stress of caring for a handicapped elderly person.  The victim’s own children or spouse can even perpetuate such crimes.

  7. Sexual abuse of the elderly

Sexual abuse occurs when the senior is forced into non-consensual sexual activity.  It is the least discussed variety of elder abuse and one of the most difficult to identify.  John Tiplady, owner of a nursing home in Yorkshire, was an upstanding member of the community who had even been recognized with awards.  It was later revealed that he was abusing his residents.  The patients in his care were severely disabled, and therefore were unable to report the abuse, which was eventually verified by a staff member.  All allegations by potential victims should be investigated.

2 Responses to “7 Tragic Ways The Elderly Have Been Exploited”

  1. Magaret says:

    Great list. I was a little surprised by the last point on sexual abuse, but then, it’s a reminder of how vulnerable seniors can be. My parents are getting on in age and I try to keep them informed. I still believe in the goodness of most people, but let’s not be naive. Another potential elderly fraud mechanism is by way of scam marketing calls. I’ve been looking into senior alert systems and found this posting http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/robocall-scams-push-medical-alert-systems.

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