Undue influence involves one person wholly taking advantage of someone unable to defend himself or herself, and it can be considered a type of domestic violence, though the intent may be financial. Undue influence is the “persuasion, pressure, or influence short of actual force, but stronger than mere advice, that so overpowers the dominated party’s free will or judgment,” impairing the ability to act intelligently and voluntarily, but acting, instead, subject to the will or purposes of the dominating party.
Similarities to domestic violence may include:
• The victim and the abuser have an ongoing relationship allowing the abuse to occur.
• The abuser may ‘groom’ the victim, charming or manipulating the elder to gain control.
• The abuser isolates the victim and creates a dependency on the abuser.
• The abuser imposes his or her will on the victim, by providing inadequate nutrition, withholding medication, or depriving the victim of sleep.
• The abuser convinces the victim that he or she is not able to function alone.
Someone quite close to the victim (a relative or close friend) often exercises undue influence. Many cases of undue influence go undocumented because elders hide or minimize the abuse and protect the abuser, wanting to avoid conflicts with other family members. This is one of the greatest threats to vulnerable elders. Statistics show only about one out of every 14 incidents of elder abuse come to the attention of local or state authorities.
To help determine if an elder is being unduly influenced, explore the relationship between the victim and the potential perpetrator, here are a few suggestions:
• Is the alleged perpetrator a family member or recent acquaintance?
• Are there signs that the perpetrator has financial, mental health or substance abuse problems?
• Does the elder have the mental capacity and ability to make financial decisions?
• Are the living conditions of the elder less than the elder can afford?
• Are amenities lacking from the house?
• Do the checks being signed not resemble the elder’s handwriting?
• Are funds being diverted to accounts the elder does not solely control?
If there are signs of wrongdoing, immediately file a report with the local police department where the crime may have occurred or contact the County Adult Protective Services. Many public agencies are involved in preventing and detecting elder abuse and most organizations are also dedicated to educating elders on these topics.
Additional helpful resources:
• National Center on Elder Abuse: State Resources; Helplines, Hotline and Information – www.ncea.aoa.gov.
• U.S. Administration on Aging: Trustworthy local support resources for elders – www.eldercare.gov.
Elder abuse is a growing danger. As elder abuse is a “silent condition,” no one knows exactly how many elders are being exploited, neglected or abused. If you observe questionable behaviors or have a gut feeling or concern about an elder’s safety, please investigate further when appropriate, and report it accordingly. You know the idiom – better safe than sorry.
Partners In Care is a locally-owned and operated family business providing non-medical in-home care in ten Northern California counties.