The pandemic’s impact on older adults went beyond COVID-19 infections, as it also made them more vulnerable to abuse, the Wall Street Journal reports. In Miami, some of Shirley Gibson’s land that had been in her family for a century, was stolen by three people, who forged the octogenarian’s name on a deed and sold it in a virtual transaction that had become commonplace during the pandemic. Cases like these cropped up across the U.S. during the pandemic, contributing to a surge in elder abuse, defined as an intentional or negligent act that harms someone 60 or older in a physical, emotional or financial way. The number of elder-fraud victims increased fifty five percent between 2019 and 2020. Stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures left older adults isolated and possibly sheltering with abusers, either family or caregivers who threatened to send them to a nursing home or cough on them if they didn’t give them money.
Amy Weirich, the district attorney general in the county surrounding Memphis, said her Vulnerable Adult Prosecution Investigation Team has reviewed 51 cases in the first nine months of this year, including the case of a 64-year-old caregiver who pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree murder after repeatedly striking an 83-year-old woman, knocking the dentures out of her mouth. “In 2019, we didn’t even have a dozen for the whole year,” Weirich said. Elder-abuse cases, which have been on the rise for years, are expected to continue climbing even after the pandemic ends due partly to the aging population and the shortage of trained and licensed caregivers. Low pay and burnout cause many to leave the field, both in private in-home care and nursing homes. Social connections, lost in the pandemic, are harder for older adults to restore, increasing the likelihood of isolation—a key risk factor in abuse. Abuse can lead to an earlier death for older Americans. It can also devastate families and undermine the financial and emotional well-being of older people.