Certain elders are more vulnerable than others, and it can be difficult to identify if the situation involves someone with dementia who needs help with decisions versus someone who is being taken advantage of. Below are some questions to ask yourself about the elder as well as the potential suspect to help identify what is occurring.
Questions to ask about the elder
~ Health Factors
Has the potential victim recently had a new medical diagnosis? Do they drink too much or abuse other substances?
~ Personal Factors
Has the person recently been widowed? How isolated are they? Do they have neighbors nearby? Any friends or family? How educated/sophisticated are they about decision making? Do they have access to their own lawyer or other professional who gives them objective advice? Have they recently announced they have a new best friend?
~ Financial Behavior
Have recent financial decisions been out of character? Have these decisions been made since the elder made a 'new friend'? Have there been recent financial losses?
Questions to ask about the potential suspect
~ Financial situation
Can this person survive financially without the elder's assets?
~ Access to elder
When you phone or go to the door, are you always told the elder is sleeping or otherwise unavailable? If this is occurring, please be aware this is considered the single strongest indicator of elder abuse and undue influence.
~ Knowledge of elder's limitations
How much information does this person have about any mental limitations the elder may have?
~ Decision Making
What, if any, financial decisions, does the potential suspect make for the elder?
Does this person treat the elder with respect? What is the nature of their interactions? Is there much about the relationship that you do not know, does it seem secretive? Is this suspect the sort of person the elder would ordinarily interact with?
If you believe an elder may be subject to abuse and undue influence, please be aware that the elder may not recognize the abuse. It can be similar to a situation where a husband is mentally or physically abusing his wife but she says everything is fine. Persistent verbal, emotional and mental abuse can convince the elder that their family doesn't care about them because the suspect typically lies and says the family doesn't call or try to visit. It is common for the elder to become so dependent on the suspect as a caretaker that they will defend the suspect against accusations.
It can be best to remedy undue influence through the legal system, by removing the suspect as guardian, conservator, and/or power of attorney, and/or by changing financial plans, deeds and wills back to what they were before the undue influence occurred.