Abuse And Neglect Of N.J. Seniors Is On The Rise Since Start Of Recession

elderly abuseThey survived war, other economic crashes and the hardship that can often come with old age, but nothing prepared them for being betrayed by their own families. Some seniors endure being cursed and slapped. Other see their life savings disappear. The victims are old, frightened, vulnerable and their numbers are rising. Since the recession hit, social service agencies and others in the field of elder care say they are intervening more and more often on the behalf of parents being exploited by adult children who moved back in with them. “The number of abuse, neglect and exploitations have all clearly increased in a one-year period,” said Vincent D’Elia, president and CEO of Monmouth County-based Family & Children’s Services. “It’s the kind of program where you don’t want to see the numbers go up.”

The exploitation takes on all sorts of forms, experts say — from theft and assault to verbal abuse.

Some children sell their parents’ home, spend the parents’ money and eat their meager food rations, said Lisa Barnes, coordinator of adult protective services for Family & Children’s Services. Some may persuade their parents to take out a reverse mortgage to expand or modify the larger household — or to finance their own homes. Or they just want the cash.

Officials who deal with elder abuse have no shortage of stories:

• In one case, a widow in her early 80s suffering from dementia lived in a trailer with her unemployed son in his 50s. The son regularly screamed and cursed at her and threatened to leave her alone. He used her Social Security and pension checks to pay the bills, including for his cell phone.

• One family relocated to the house of an elderly relative. When the relative later moved into a nursing home, her family members used her monthly Social Security and pension checks — money that should have been used to pay for her nursing care — to pay household expenses to keep living in the house.

• After suffering a debilitating stroke five years ago, a 63-year-old retired secretary from Red Bank thought she could rely on her family to help her take care of her finances. Instead, she said, her son stole her savings, leaving her with no money for rent or food.

“You think you’re helping your kids — they’re manipulators,” said the woman, who asked to be identified only as Margaret. “I just gave, gave, gave until I gave out. I just woke up one day with nothing left.”

Margaret did not press charges against her son. But she notified Family & Children’s Services, which put her in touch with social workers and other programs that help her manage her own finances.

In fact, only a small number of elder abuse cases are referred to law enforcement. Many incidents don’t rise to the level of a crime, said Gwen Orlowski, director of the state’s division of elder advocacy, and investigators usually don’t get involved unless a large sum of money is stolen or there is extreme abuse.

Social services agencies usually step in and go to court to revoke the power of attorney held by a child, change guardianships, set up new living arrangements or challenge the competency of the elderly victim.

There were 2,249 such cases of elder abuse, neglect or exploitation in New Jersey in 2007, according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services. That number increased the next year to 2,492 and is on track to be even higher when the state completes its tallies for 2009, said David Ricci, state coordinator of adult protective services.

“From what I see, the fastest rising in percentages is exploitation,” Ricci said. “Basically it’s a function of the economy.”


Although the U.S. Census does not keep track of how many adults move back with their parents, it does show that the number of children between the ages of 18 and 34 who are living with their parents has steadily increased over the past five years.

Ellen Berfond, a social work supervisor for Ocean County’s Board of Social Services, said calls to her agency have also significantly increased. In 2008, her agency received 783 calls, and 448 of them turned out to be substantiated cases of abuse, neglect or exploitation. Those figures rose last year to 826 calls and 497 substantiated cases. But in Ocean County, with its large senior citizen population, a big segment of exploitation cases consists of scams such as fake sweepstakes winnings.

“People fall into that and they think they’re going to get their windfall, so they keep sending money,” Berfond said.

Joseph Kunzmann, director of Somerset County’s Board of Social Services, estimated three-quarters of his cases are instances of self-neglect: seniors who don’t take care of themselves. He has seen an increase in abuse, neglect and exploitation cases, but he said he isn’t yet ready to attribute it to the recession. Rather, Kunzmann suspects many of the problems have to do with a fairly affluent aging population that finally needs assistance after being independent for so long.

Orlowski said family members often start with the best intentions but can wind up mistreating their loved ones unintentionally through frustration or exhaustion. “Sometimes it’s complicated.”

Neglect often occurs when well-intentioned children grow weary of caring for an elderly parent and attentive care falls by the wayside. Or it can be for a nefarious reason: A child looking to preserve his inheritance will refuse to spend his parents’ money for the necessary care.

“We have black-and-white cases, and we have a lot of gray,” Orlowski said. Star Ledger

This content, and any other content on TLS, may not be republished or reproduced without prior permission from TLS. Copying or reproducing our content is both against the law and against Halacha. To inquire about using our content, including videos or photos, email us at [email protected].

Stay up to date with our news alerts by following us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

**Click here to join over 20,000 receiving our Whatsapp Status updates!**

**Click here to join the official TLS WhatsApp Community!**

Got a news tip? Email us at [email protected], Text 415-857-2667, or WhatsApp 609-661-8668.