In trying to prevent elder abuse of all types, including financial exploitation, it is crucial to understand why older adults are targeted and what risk factors increase the chance of an elder being abused or exploited. Multiple studies have found that loneliness and isolation can significantly raise the risk of elder abuse. Elders may be isolated due to health related issues; the death of family and friends; mobility difficulties; lack of transportation; living alone; or the deliberate acts of an abuser. In 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 46 percent of women 75 and older and 23 percent of men that age lived alone. As our longevity boom continues and older adults in this country continue to live longer, we will have an ever growing percentage of our population who live alone and are isolated.
How does loneliness play a role in elder abuse?
Loneliness and isolation tend to make elders more vulnerable to being taken advantage of. This can happen when a “new best friend” comes on the scene and takes advantage of a lonely elder’s desire for companionship. The new friend may exert significant influence over the elder which can create easy access to financial and other important decision making. Loneliness may also make an elder vulnerable to a scammer on the phone who targets older people just craving someone to talk to. Phone scams, including romantic or “sweetheart scams,” are rampant and can result in financial devastation for older victims. Isolation can also occur when a perpetrator known to the elder – a family member or friend – deliberately isolates the elder to better exploit them. In order to keep the abuse hidden from others, perpetrators may monitor the elder’s communications, block family and friends from access with the elder, attend medical appointments or meetings with financial institutions with the elder, and create obstacles for the elder to socialize outside the home.
All elder abuse prevention efforts must include a plan to address the social isolation that many older adults in a community experience. How can we increase the possibility for social connections in our communities – even to the most socially isolated elders? Here is a link to a recent story on the “Epidemic of Loneliness” and an innovative program in Great Britian that attempts to address this critical issue.