Love thy neighbor; Look out for thy neighbor

The majority of my elderly clients, friends and family members express a preference to live in their own homes for as long as possible, as opposed to moving in with their children or moving to a long term care institution. In Florida, a larger than average percentage of our population is elderly as compared to others states in the United States. Some have been Floridians their entire lives and others have moved here for the quality of lifestyle, the lack of a State income tax and other benefits.

You may be one of the many people in Bay County who have an elderly neighbor living next door, across the street, or around the corner. Unfortunately, our elderly neighbors are susceptible to abuse, neglect and especially exploitation. Florida Statute 825.102 (1) defines abuse of an elderly person, Florida Statute 825.103(3)(a) defines neglect of an elderly person, and Florida Statute 825.103(1) defines exploitation of an elderly person.

This article will primarily address the exploitation of our elderly population. Exploitation is essentially defined as the taking or using an elderly person's assets by a person in a position of trust. This person in a position of trust can be a spouse, child, neighbor, friend, Agent under a Power of Attorney, or licensed professional such as an attorney, financial advisor or accountant. In other words exploitation occurs when an individual takes, borrows or uses an elderly person's assets to the detriment of the elderly person.

Examples include the friend who takes the elderly person grocery shopping on a periodic basis, but asks the elderly person to include the friend's own groceries in the transaction and then charges a higher than reasonable fee to cover their gas costs. I recently had a client tell me he pays $100.00 dollars per trip to a neighbor to take him grocery shopping. Even the worst gas guzzler doesn't use that much fuel for a trip to the grocery store.

Another example would be the family member who moves in with a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc., and proceeds to live in the home without contributing to the household costs and without providing health care of other valid services to the elderly family member. In this situation I've seen one of two scenarios to play out over time. In both scenarios, the family member living in the home isolates the elderly person, limiting his or her interaction with other family members, neighbors, fellow church members and friends.

Then either the perpetrator intimidates the elderly person to the point where the elderly person is afraid to refuse to give the perpetrator access to their funds, or the perpetrator persuades the elderly person that said perpetrator is the only one who can be trusted, since no one else comes around to visit anymore. Then the perpetrator is given unlimited access to checking, savings and investment accounts.

So, how can you help? First awareness is k ey. If you know of an elderly person whose life circumstances or habits have changed recently, tune in. Ask them how they are, if they need assistance or would like a visit. Second, don't be afraid to speak up if something makes you uncomfortable. Often, if a perpetrator is aware that they're being watched, they will cease their activity. Finally, if you believe that something isn't right, be willing to share your observations with the Agency created to protect Florida's most vulnerable citizens. If you even suspect exploitation you can contact the Elder Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.

Elderly abuse experts here in Florida say the Texas case is far from isolated with an estimated 50,000 reports of elderly abuse, neglect or exploitation reported in the state every year.

If anyone needs assistance in finding a service for seniors or their caregivers, help can be found by calling the Elder Helpline at 1-800-96-ELDER weekdays during regular business hours. The Elder Helpline is staffed by trained professionals who have access to an extensive database of private pay as well as funded programs and services.