The financial exploitation of senior citizens, considered elder abuse, has been the topic of many news articles in the past few years. Four professors at Millersville University are now working to gather data from 50 cases to help determine how to prevent elders from being victims.
The research will concentrate on cases of “Pure Financial Exploitation” (PFE), which includes scams, frauds, taking money or possessions without permission, forging an older person’s signature and abuse of powers of attorney.
“The knowledge gained from the project is likely to benefit the local community with policies and programs that keep our senior citizens in Lancaster County safer,” explained Dr. Laura Brierton Granruth, assistant professor of social work at Millersville.
In addition to Granruth, Drs. Joyous Bethel, assistant professor of social work; Carrie Smith, associate professor of sociology/anthropology; and Mary Glazier, professor of sociology/anthropology are collaborating on the project, which began in June 2015 and is estimated to take two to three years. Also assisting is Kendall Seigworth, a senior at Millersville with a double major in sociology and anthropology.
“We deeply appreciate the work being done at Millersville,” said Lancaster County District Attorney, Craig Stedman. “I established an Elder Abuse Unit because these cases often take place in the shadows and can be difficult to detect and prosecute.”
“As societal demographics change and we undergo the graying of America, it is imperative that we consider how best to take care of the elderly and to provide for their needs,” said Smith. “Understanding how we can best address and prosecute cases of financial elder abuse is one of the ways we can do so.”
“We have been successful and done far more for our seniors than ever before, due to the solid partnerships with the Office of Aging and police,” said Stedman. “The Millersville study will put us in an even better position to protect our seniors and will help us take the next step.”
The community-based project will help inform the Lancaster County Office of the District Attorney and the Office on Aging, of optimal methods for case resolution and victim well-being.
“We hope to create a model for best practices that will inform the D.A.’s office and the Office on Aging,” said Granruth. “It will be a great opportunity for students to be research assistants and gain valuable work experience in their respective disciplines that will make them more attractive to potential employers or to admissions counselors at graduate schools.”
The Millersville team will study the data of PFE resolved cases in Lancaster Country from 2010-2015. “More than 50% of reported cases of PFE of the elderly is perpetrated by a family member or trusted person,” explained Granruth. “We will examine data about the circumstances and outcomes so we can analyze the information to determine what constitutes a successful outcome and resolution.”
A second piece of the project will include interviewing law enforcement and social workers who work with the elderly to understand how the abuse occurred, how it was resolved and how the victim feels about the resolution.
Related to the work on abuse, Millersville University’s Social Work Department offers a certificate in gerontology and the Sociology/Anthropology Department will offer a course in the fall, “Aging and the Elderly.”