"Elder Orphans" are on the rise due to increased isolation due to COVID-19 and experts say it’s also causing an uptick in elder abuse.
“It's worse now than it's ever been,” says Anthony Cirillo, an aging and caregiving expert and president of the "Aging Experience," a company that focuses on elder care and caregiving issues. Elder abuse was a problem before COVID-19 hit. The pandemic only exacerbated it, Cirillo said.
“We’re all going through these kinds of things and I think you become more vulnerable and emotional and become more open to listening to people who might be trying to exploit you. So isolation is just a killer right now,” says Cirillo.
Debby Bitticks says her father-in-law became a victim of elder abuse.
“I was really naive in assuming that this person was going to give quality care turned out to be a crook,” Bitticks said. “Everything that you could possibly read about that could go wrong with elder abuse was happening with my father-in-law.”
Well before the coronavirus, elder abuse was happening right before her eyes.
“We had to hire a private investigator. Of course we notified social services, had to hire an elder care lawyer, yes, we did save his life and brought him to live with us,” Bitticks said.
She turned the experience into a movie called "Saving our Parents."
“We just want to let people know inspect what you except,” Bitticks said. “Don’t ever assume that your parents are OK without knowing to look for any signs of change.”
The film was made in 2008. Since then, it's been shown all over the world, won awards and has been used as a training tool.
“It’s as important today as it was when I made it,” Bitticks said. “It’s endless in terms of information, it's timeless. All of us have aging parents, the new generation needs to know this."
When asked about the warning signs, and what you should look for to spot a problem, Cirillo said, “Look for the signs. Bruises, welts, lacerations, is mom or dad taking care of themselves, are they clean or unwashed, are they having trouble sleeping, have they lost a bunch of weight, any sign of trauma.”
He also says if you hire someone, carefully screen them and do a background check. Monitor your loved one's finances and watch their bank accounts. Make sure you draw up an estate plan. And he says start those conversations now.
“Everything is about preparation. Nobody wants to talk about aging until there’s a crisis situation, and when there’s a crisis, everybody reacts, but in reality, we should be talking about all of these issues early on,” Cirillo said.
Experts also advise, especially during this pandemic, if you can't be there, it's imperative that you have someone check in on your family as it's more important than ever to be involved, even if it's from a distance.
Bitticks also recommends that families capture their loved one's life story. If you'd like a guide to help you do so, you can find it at DebbyBitticks.com, using the code “GRATITUDE” to get the PDF at no cost.