One 75-year-old man endured taunts from a grown son living with him until one day the son attacked him with a hatchet. A 65-year-old woman saw her savings dissipated and the apartment building that she owned sold by the son-in-law she had trusted to manage her financial affairs.
A 64-year-old woman was persuaded to put her daughter's name on the deed of her house when the daughter said she would move in and help care for her ill father. But the daughter didn't help, and the daughter's husband hit and choked the woman.
The victims in these cases yesterday told their stories at a hearing of a House Aging subcommittee. A subcommittee report, released yesterday, said that these are examples of a growing, but largely hidden, national problem: abuse of the elderly.
Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.), chairman of the health and long-term care subcommittee, said that 1.1 million elderly people a year may be victims of abuse, but that only about one in five cases is reported to authorities -- far less than for child abuse.
The subcommittee report listed worse cases than those outlined yesterday by the witnesses, who at least were sufficiently able-bodied to have sought help. Others may become easy targets of abuse because of sickness, frailty or confusion.
The panel listed other cases of serious injuries, some resulting in deaths, inflicted by sons and daughters, and of neglect of bedridden and incontinent elderly persons. It also cited thefts of savings and property.
Suzanne K. Steinmetz, professor of family studies at the University of Delaware, said that abuse is related to the stress of an adult child caring for a highly dependent parent and that those abused as children are more likely to abuse their elderly parents.
Also appearing before the committee was Lois Pope, serving two to six years at the federal women's prison in Lexington, Ky., for embezzling $173,000 from 32 elderly servicemen living at the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmens' Home on North Capitol Street here.
With her voice cracking, the 61-year-old Pope said she had cared very much for the old men.
"I think now I was simply afraid of being old and alone and unloved. Just as they were. I was trying to buy my family's affection with the things I thought they needed or wanted," Pope said.
She used the money to buy a house near Annapolis, automobiles and boats, among other things, according to prosecutors and Pepper.
U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova, whose office prosecuted the case, said that as the institution's patient finance officer for 11 years Pope had been able to systematically drain the resources of at least 32 of the "most decrepit and mentally infirm patients."
"Pope, using her charm and her feigned interest in the patients' well-being, endeared herself to the weakest and most helpless" at the home, diGenova said.
Pepper called for legislation that would encourage states to put more effort into preventing and identifying abuse of the elderly.
The subcommittee report recommends tax credits for families caring for older relatives, emergency shelter for abused elderly persons, mandatory reporting requirements in cases of suspected abuse, more legal assistance for the elderly, and changes in Medicare to cover the cost of care at home and short-term stays in nursing homes.