Exploitation of Elderly People
Economic & Social Research
February 8, 2012
Picture Credit: nytimes.com
who are in close contact with elderly people could soon be in a better
position to spot if they are being financially exploited, for example
through a lottery scam or by a deceitful relative draining the bank
account, thanks to a pioneering new study funded by the UK Research
Councils' New Dynamics of Ageing programme (NDA)
Researchers have started to untangle the complex decision-making
process that professionals go through when confronted with an elderly
person whose financial situation raises suspicions that exploitation
may be taking place. The research was led by psychologist Professor
Mary Gilhooly of Brunel University, who worked with colleagues from
Brunel and the universities of Hertfordshire, Plymouth, Northumbria and
"The number of frail and mentally impaired older people in society is
increasing, and there are growing challenges with money handling," said
Professor Gilhooly. "There are many stories of elderly people being
financially exploited through scams or relatives - although there has
not been enough academic research on the issue. "
The researchers wanted to find out how professionals who deal with the
elderly make decisions relating to potential financial exploitation –
what information they use, how they weigh it up, and whether they
decide to act or not.
"It is a complex process," said Professor Gilhooly. "First you have to
notice that something is wrong, then you have to decide whether it is
abuse and this is clearly not straightforward. You need to make the
decision whether to do something or not, and if you do decide to
intervene you need the appropriate skills. Things could go wrong at any
one of these points."
The researchers focused on three groups of professionals: healthcare
workers, social care workers and bankers. The professionals were
presented with a range of scenarios based on real-life cases of
financial abuse and questioned on how they would respond and what
'cues' would raise their suspicions of something being amiss.
"We found that while there may be multiple cues that could be taken
into account when considering the likelihood that financial
exploitation is taking place, only two or three are really important,"
said Professor Gilhooly.
Amongst social care and health professionals only two factors had a
significant influence on the certainty of abuse:
- The older person's mental capacity.
- In cases where the older person was more confused and
forgetful, this increased suspicion that financial abuse was taking
Amongst banking and finance professionals, three case
features significantly influenced certainty of financial abuse:
- The nature of the financial problem.Financial
problems where building work had been paid for but had not been carried
out were seen as the strongest indicator of abuse. Cases where there
was very little money for day-to-day necessities were given the lowest
certainty of abuse.
- The nature of the financial problem.
- Certainty of abuse was highest when the financial problem
involved a customer asking to transfer money overseas to claim a cash
prize. Cases where the bank account was unexpectedly overdrawn were
rated the lowest certainty of abuse.
- The older person's mental capacity.In
cases where the older person was more confused and forgetful, there was
increased suspicion that financial abuse was taking place.
"By systematically analysing how these decisions are arrived
at, such as is exploitation taking place and should we act upon it,
should allow a better understanding of the most important signs to look
out for and then how best to tackle the issue," said Professor
Gilhooly. "We think that the case studies we devised could be useful
training tools." A follow-up study sponsored by the Economic and Social
Research Council (ESRC) has recently been launched to investigate the
potential of online training of professionals in understanding these
- Person in charge of the money.Banking
and financial professionals were less certain if financial abuse was
occurring if the older person was in charge of his or her own finances.