The world that we live in feels increasingly complex. We turn on the news and hear of database breaches, credit card fraud, online scams, and identity theft. With each new technology comes new vulnerabilities. As we live longer, we become more physically and mentally vulnerable to chronic disease like dementia and heart disease. For all the security and medical advancement that we boast we still find ourselves as vulnerable people in the world. The question then becomes not how do we eliminate our inevitable vulnerability, but how can we mitigate the risks and advocate for the most vulnerable among us? Seniors continue to be a consistent target for many scams and often need family, friends, and professionals to stand in the gap and make sure they are protected and that "elder hood" is a time to age safely and well.
Staying Safe Online
The internet has brought us a wealth of information, connection with friends and family, and tools for making life simpler, but it has also brought its own complexities as well as risks for seniors. Computer viruses, phishing for passwords, identity theft, and bank fraud are just a few of the major offenders in the online world. Here are a few tips to help vulnerable adults and all of us be safe online.
- Do not click on advertising banners or paid ads. While some may be fine, many are malicious attempts to direct you to a website that may contain malware.
- Do not open links in your email from anyone you do not recognize. Spam is often used to gather data or spread computer viruses.
- Have strong passwords for all your online accounts. Use a different password for each account that is 8 characters long and includes upper and lower case letters, symbols and numbers. Do not use a recognizable word in your password. Regularly change your passwords. If you need to document them on a piece of paper, store it separately from your computer and reference it. There are also secure apps that both help you generate and manage your passwords, such as 1Password (https://agilebits.com/onepassword)
- Do not click on special offers that promise something of value if you give them your personal information. Again, some are okay, but most are scams and it is better to avoid them entirely. If you are interested in a deal from a company you recognize, it is better to visit their website or call them directly.
- Turn off cookie tracking when browsing. Cookies are the trail you create when searching the internet that tracks all the websites you’ve been to and the content you have clicked on. This information is often used by companies to send you targeted ads and information based on what you’ve looked at. To avoid targeted ads that may be tempting click bait, have a family member disable the cookie tracking on your computer or mobile device. Duck Duck Go (https://duckduckgo.com/) is a tracking free alternative to Google or Bing for internet searches.
- Regularly use and update anti-virus software and avoid services that advertise on TV claiming to clean computers. This will help devices maintain functionality, speed, and protect your data.
- Password protect wireless internet in the home especially if you are doing internet banking or bill paying online.
- Do not enter your personal information or credit card information to any untrusted websites. Consider discussing online purchases before they are made to help vet trustworthy sites.
When Family Takes Advantage
One of the most difficult situations we see is when the family is the one taking advantage of an aging adult. Whether the senior has dementia or is just very trusting, it can be easy to miss family misconduct because of the unsuspecting nature and closeness of the relationship. Family can take advantage in several different ways including adult children habitually borrowing large sums of money, beneficiaries reducing care to subpar levels to save inheritable assets, or even marriages late in life with the intent of taking assets. Hiring a Geriatric Care Manager can be one of the best ways that seniors can advocate and protect themselves against predatory behaviors from a variety of sources. As professionals in the care of older adults they provide a keen assessment of family dynamics, environment, and holistic health from an unbiased perspective. The continued presence and guidance of a Care Manager in the life of a senior allows them to red flag patterns of financial abuse and other destructive influences to make sure assets are secure and well-being is paramount. For families living a long distance from aging loved ones, Care Managers can be the eyes and ears of the family in watching out for the safety and security of aging adults. For more information regarding Care Management in the Puget Sound visit http://www.soundoptions.com/geriatric-care-management.
Because of the isolated nature of care provided for homebound aging adults, elder abuse can be difficult to detect when there are no checks and balances as well as regular supervision. When you are hiring a caregiver to come into the home, it can feel extremely vulnerable inviting a stranger into your most intimate space. For this reason among many others hiring a caregiver through a licensed and bonded home care agency is always the better choice over hiring privately. To view a comparison between private and professionally hired caregivers view our article called, “Piecing It Together: Informal vs. Professional Home Care.” Washington has a statewide hotline that you can use to report suspected elder abuse: 1 866 END HARM | 1 800 363- 4276. You can also report a claim and find more resources about elder abuse at the DSHS website http://www.altsa.dshs.wa.gov/aps/.
Those with one of the many types of dementia are some of the most vulnerable adults among us. Because of the progression of brain disease their loss of memory, language, and physical functioning make them much more susceptible to being taken advantage of and least able to report the situation. It is crucial that family and professionals in elder care cooperatively provide the very best memory care and protection. For those with a new diagnosis or in the beginning stages, make a plan with your family and doctors to mitigate your risks as the disease progresses and help shift responsibility as capacity changes. It is crucial to determine and appoint someone you trust greatly to make decisions and speak on your behalf when you will no longer be able to do so.
One of the best vehicles for protecting vulnerable adults is to have proper legal documentation of their wishes and appointed persons who can speak on their behalf. By taking the initiative to think about the type of life and death they want, seniors can advocate for their future selves by documenting their wishes in a Living Will, POLST Form, and Durable Power of Attorney. Particularly if you suspect foul play or potential beneficiaries taking advantage, consulting with an elder law attorney is an important step in protecting yourself and your assets. For more details on Advance Directives and the documents you and your aging loved ones should have view our article, “On Your Behalf: Understanding Advance Directives”
Published on September 18, 2015.