Older Adults May Be More Vulnerable to Abuse
Elder abuse is the physical, sexual, psychological, or financial abuse or neglect of older people who may be unable to defend or fend for themselves. The incidence of elder abuse is expected to increase as the size of the older population grows, further straining the social service and criminal justice systems charged with protecting that population. Read more in our Key Issues page.
Guardianship is one way to protect the interests of older people who are mentally or physically unable to manage their personal or financial affairs. State and local courts or federal agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, may appoint individuals—typically family members—or organizations to manage financial affairs or federal benefits on behalf of people who are unable to do so. However, sometimes older adults can be exploited by the guardians appointed to protect their interests. Read about how courts and federal agencies, including SSA, can better screen and monitor such persons and better coordinate with one another to combat elder abuse nationwide.
Income Isn’t the Only Financial Challenge
Financial literacy is a key element in avoiding financial exploitation and ensuring financial security in retirement. For example, with the decline of traditional employer-based pensions, retirees are increasingly responsible for managing their retirement assets to ensure adequate retirement income. Read more about the effectiveness of financial education and enhancing the federal government’s role in this area.
Financial products targeted at older Americans are increasingly complex, and may carry both benefits and risks of exploitation.
- Reverse mortgages—a type of loan against a borrower's home that provides a lump sum or periodic payments to the borrower—can help seniors face financial hardship or improve their quality of life. They are growing in popularity as a supplement to retirement income, but they are relatively complex and costly and the population they serve is vulnerable. Read more about reverse mortgages.
- Annuities with guaranteed lifetime withdrawals can help older Americans ensure they do not outlive their assets, but do present some risks to consumers. We examined the benefits, risks, and regulation of these annuities—learn more from our report and podcast on these complex products.
- Pension advances—lump-sum payments in exchange for a retiree’s pension payments—did not compare favorably with other financial products or offerings that we reviewed, and these products raised consumer protection concerns.
- Student loan debt and other forms of personal debt can affect the financial security of older people who are approaching retirement. Student loan debt can be especially daunting because, unlike other types of debt, it generally can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Learn more from our blog and podcast.
Services for Older Adults
Many older adults want to age in their homes and communities. Their ability to do so often depends on the availability of services, such as home-delivered meals, home-based care, and transportation. Some frail older adults may rely on informal assistance from family and friends, while others rely on services from paid providers.
The Older Americans Act (OAA) was enacted to help frail older adults maintain their independence and avoid premature nursing homes and depletion of their income and assets. Programs paid for with a mix of federal, state, and local funding provide a broad range of services, including:
- Nutrition: The largest proportion of funding for major home and community-based services and related activities under the Older Americans Act (OAA) goes to state units on aging for nutrition services.
- Transportation: Funding under the OAA helps states to provide rides for older adults to doctor’s offices, grocery stores, and pharmacies, senior centers, meal sites, and social events.
- Housing: A growing number of older Americans live in “continuing care retirement communities,” which aim to provide lifelong housing, household assistance, and nursing care in exchange for a sometimes sizable entrance fee and ongoing monthly fees. Learn more about continuing care retirement communities and the risks they can pose. HUD’s Section 202 program supports rental housing for very low-income elderly households. Read our recommendations for improving the Section 202 program.
As the older population continues to grow, communities will find it increasingly difficult to meet the demand for the supports many older adults will need to age in their own homes and communities. This makes it important to ensure that the federal resources available for this purpose are used effectively and efficiently. Read more about efforts to coordinate funding from across the government and recommendations to coordinate transportation services, specifically.
GAO’s Key Reports on Related Retirement Challenges
GAO-17-536: Published: Jun 20, 2017. Publicly Released: Jul 20, 2017.
Participation of older workers in the labor market has increased in the last decade, according to GAO analysis. Further, most individuals ages 61 to 66 who were still working maintained a full-time work schedule. However, although about a quarter of workers in this age group had planned to reduce hours as they transitioned to retirement, fewer than 15 percent subsequently reported being partly ret...
GAO-16-758: Published: Sep 1, 2016. Publicly Released: Oct 3, 2016.
While limitations in the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) data make an accurate assessment difficult, GAO estimates that roughly half of the 7,229 Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly (Section 202) properties have HUD-funded service coordinators—staff who link residents to supportive services such as transportation assistance or meals. HUD's data indicate that 38 per...
GAO-16-242: Published: Mar 1, 2016. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 2016.
Household spending patterns varied by age, with mid-career households (those aged 45-49) spending more than older households. For example, according to 2013 survey data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), mid-career households spent an estimated average of around $58,500, while young retiree households (those aged 65-69) spent about 20 percent less. While the share of spending was consisten...
GAO-15-639SP: Published: Jul 7, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 7, 2015.
What Participants SaidParticipants highlighted the following themes during the forum:• Employers are well-suited to play a role in promoting financial literacy. Participants noted that employers already provide information on employee benefits, have key information about employees’ lives, and are generally trusted to provide sound financial information and advice.• Workplace financial wellne...
GAO-15-190: Published: May 20, 2015. Publicly Released: May 20, 2015.
Five federal agencies within four departments fund home and community-based services and supports that older adults often require to continue living independently in their own homes and communities. The Administration on Aging (AoA) and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Tr...