The statistics are startling. According to the best estimates, about 1-2 million U.S. citizens 65 years of age or older have been mistreated, exploited or injured by a caregiver. Caregiver abuse is typically defined as abuse by someone providing care for the elderly or a person with a disability. Elder abuse is a broad term encompassing all types of abuse and neglect but not always specifically caused by someone in a caretaker role.
The term caregiver refers to anyone who routinely helps others who are limited by chronic conditions. While formal caregivers are typically volunteers or paid employees connected to the social service or health care systems, informal caregivers are often family members and friends, who provide nearly 75 percent of the care currently being provided to impaired older adults living in the community.
Caregiver abuse and neglect has remained a relatively understudied problem in the United States with most states only establishing adult protective services units in the mid-1980s. According to the National Institute of Justice, some states have yet to develop mandated reporting laws for caregiver abuse similar to those in place for child abuse. A review of adult protective services and laws for each state shows how widely varied the system really is with regards to protection and investigative capacity of caregiver abuse.
Elder abuse, including caregiver abuse, in all forms has remained an under-reported crime. Data on elder abuse by caregivers suggest that only 1 in 14 incidents, excluding incidents of self-neglect, comes to the attention of authorities. It is estimated that for every one case of elder abuse, neglect, exploitation, or self-neglect reported to authorities, about five more go unreported. The reporting of financial crimes is even less with current estimates putting the overall reporting of financial exploitation at only 1 in 25 cases, suggesting that there may be at least five million financial abuse victims each year.
As our population ages, caregiver abuse will become more of a problem. The United States is an aging society with more people living longer than ever before. This trend is expected to increase. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that more than 62 million Americans will be aged 65 or older in 2025, an increase of 78 percent from 2001, and more than 7.4 million will be aged 85 or older, an increase of nearly 68 percent from 2001. This aging population will require more care and protection than is currently available or possible.
Abuse by caregivers may be physical, sexual, emotional or financial. It may involve intentional or unintentional neglect. These various forms of abuse may be motivated by many factors and unlike most victim-based crime the offenders are just as often female as they are male. A major concern in the criminal justice field is the lack of research on the forensic aspects of elder abuse.
Many families will utilize a private investigator to conduct a wellness check— simply checking in on the health, safety and general welfare of a loved one who is at a distance. Reporting back can do a lot to ease the stress and concern of families or may be the push they need to have someone investigate the situation more closely.
In other circumstances, caregiver abuse investigations can be comprised of background checks, asset checks, reviewing medical and financial reports, conducting alleged victim and offender interviews, taking witness statements and both overt and covert surveillance.
What makes these investigations different and challenging is the often-complex dynamics between the victims and their caregivers—particularly if it’s all within the family.
Navigating the complex web of the elder services system can also present a challenge to investigators unfamiliar with the government and private entities involved. The investigator must assess not only the victim, but the home environment to uncover caregiver abuse.
Mission Possible Investigations is well-versed in these types of investigation. Founder and CEO, Jamie Richardson, is a former elder abuse investigator for the state of Florida and understands the risk factors as well as how to handle these types of investigations and the services available to families.