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For Caregivers: Financial Elder Abuse and Mistreatment

Did you know the CDC considers elder abuse a serious public health problem because of the potential devastating effects on the physical, emotional, and mental health of older adult victims?1 Victims of exploitation are often forced into a marginal existence for the balance of their lives.2

How would you feel if you discovered that a relative or friend had abused, exploited or mistreated a loved one?

Imagine being an 83-year old widow, living alone and with few people in your life. What would you do if you opened your bank statement and found that your life savings were depleted and your 56-year old son took your money. The widow begins to weep as she has nowhere to turn.

Picture a 78-year old man with mobility challenges or dementia being helped by a trusted caretaker who forcefully used her influence and threats to get Power of Attorney, then emotionally and financially abused the gentleman. The man loses his independence and is left with a shattered self-esteem and a meager Social Security check. Scenarios such as these occur daily across America. Health care and social service professionals can help stop it!

Financial or material exploitation is defined as the illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property, or assets. Examples include, but are not limited to, cashing an elderly person’s checks without authorization or permission; forging an older person’s signature; misusing or stealing an older person’s money or possessions; coercing or deceiving an older person into signing any document (e.g., contracts or will); and the improper use of conservatorship, guardianship, or power of attorney.”3

Financial exploitation of older adults is a growing yet hidden epidemic. The media regularly chronicles outrageous behaviors involving awful and unlawful treatment of older adults. Gender, circumstances, the relationship of the perpetrator to the victim, and other elements of the stories change but the outcomes are similar – compromised health, wellness and safety of older adults.

Vulnerability to elder abuse increases as a result of age-related changes and challenges such as cognitive impairment, reduced sensory capabilities, mobility challenges, depression, isolation, and dependency on others for assistance with daily living activities. Research indicates that financial exploitation often precedes other types of elder abuse,4 indicating that preventing such abuse may help safeguard people from further awful and unlawful actions. Health care and service professionals working with older adults and family members may be the “first-line of defense” for the older adult at risk for elder financial abuse and mistreatment.

Detecting elder abuse can be challenging. Be suspicious in your encounters with older adults. The following are a few clues of possible elder financial abuse or mistreatment:

Older adult indicates:

  • Money or possessions are disappearing or being taken by someone without permission.
  • Care needs are not being met from family or substandard care being provided.
  • Bills are going unpaid despite the belief the person has adequate financial resources.

Or you notice:

  • A new “friend” accompanies the older adult, hovers, resists your attempts to see older adult alone.
  • Missed appointments, frequent change of primary care provider, missing assistive devices.5, 6

Most states require health and social professionals to report suspected elder abuse. If you suspect that an older adult is being abused, exploited or mistreated, follow your gut instinct, contact the local Adult Protective Services office. Professionals have the responsibility to “do no harm”. Not reporting a suspected case of abuse may allow abuse to continue, thus allowing harm!

Recommended Resource – Evelyn’s Pick

National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (NCPEA) is an association of researchers, practitioners, educators, and advocates dedicated to prevention of elder abuse. 


  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding Elder Maltreatment Fact Sheet
  2. Brandl, B., Dyer, C.B., Heisler, C.J., et al. (2007). Elder abuse detection and intervention: A collaborative approach. New York: Springer Publishing Company.
  3. National Center on Elder Abuse. Major Types of Elder Abuse
  4. Price, G. & Fox, C. (1997). The Massachusetts bank reporting project: An edge against Financial exploitation. Journal of Elder Abuse & Neglect, 8(4).
  5. Ibid #2
  6. National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (NCPEA). Financial Abuse

GERO GEMS are a monthly publication of the Center for Aging with Dignity. Compiled by Evelyn Fitzwater, this publication is designed to raise awareness of aging and related issues affecting health care professionals and our society as a whole.

For more information:

Go to the Senior Health health topic.