One of life’s cruelest ironies is that the “success” of living to a ripe old age brings with it the realization that many others have not made the journey. As you get older, you begin to attend more funerals than picnics and while the sandwiches may be better, you go home feeling a sense of loss, grieve quietly about the loss of a life-long companion and then you wait for the phone to ring.
This scene repeats itself again and again and soon you begin to fear being completely alone. Your contacts outside your home are diminishing both in number and in their ability to provide comfort to you as they face the same problems that you are facing. A sense of vulnerability begins to set in.
Then one evening, as you are setting the table for one, the phone rings. It is one of your children asking if you need any help and you remember that you have three children. Your daughter is a medical doctor and lives in another city and her brother is a chartered accountant who lives across town. He has four children you would most definitely like to visit more often.
The likelihood is, however, that the phone call is from your divorced son, whose wife left him last year taking their children with her. He lives in an apartment nearby and drops in occasionally to have supper with you. He is a good son and worked as a letter carrier for over 30 years. He has always had a little problem with the bottle and retired on pension at age 55. He will cut the grass and put the garbage out.
If the story ended there, it would be probably be positive for both of you. His visits mitigate the isolation that has had crept into your life and now that he has retired, he has more spare time. He takes you to your doctor appointments and he offers to take you grocery shopping. You welcome this gesture because driving in traffic is nerve-wracking and parking at the shopping centre is very difficult for you. Soon he offers to do the grocery shopping for both of you. All he needs is to borrow your car and your debit card and password for the ATM, so that he can pay for the groceries and fill up your car with gas.
You have always managed your own affairs and you still can. This request for access to your bank account rankles you and you do not know why. You remain silent and uncomfortable. He is, after all, your son, but six months later you discover that he has taken $10,000.00 dollars out of your bank account without asking you. You are embarrassed by this situation, but you confront your son and he tells you not worry because it is just a loan until he “gets back on his feet”.
Then you remember the other “loans” and realize that your son is taking money from you without your permission, and some people would call it stealing. You threaten to call the police if he does not put the money back, but he counters that if you do so, he will never see you again. Frightened by that prospect, you are too embarrassed to tell anybody what has taken place.
The above story is composed of a combination of facts from many files in my filing cabinet. It could be true. Often, in such cases, the gender of the child or the parent is different and sometimes the threats also include physical assaults and the amounts taken from the bank account vary from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
There are, however, two constant factors. The parent always seems to be lonely and isolated and the child is clinging to the lower rungs of the ladder of success. The parent feels guilty about the child’s lack of success, often taking some of the blame, but the child can sense all of this guilt and will take advantage of it. You can change the characters in this story, but the plot will always depend upon the isolation and vulnerability of the elder person.
As a senior, the potential solution to these problems lies with the disclosure of these events to a third party. In the hypothetical situation above, the mother could have called her two capable children for assistance. At the very least, they will be motivated by their own financial interests and will align themselves with hers to take steps to recover the money or at least stop the losses from happening.
The family member who is perpetrating this abuse is fully aware that the continued isolation of the elder person is key to his or her strategy. Often under the guise of providing better care of a parent, the adult child will move into his or her home. The phone will then be provided with call display and all incoming calls will be diverted to voice mail. Invitations to family gatherings will taper off as health excuses are made and the older person will always be accompanied by the abuser when social events do occur.
Our community is well represented by social workers and religious advisors who can point you in the right direction. We are very privileged to have the elder abuse unit as part of the Ottawa Police Service. Their primary interest is to protect the elderly both physically and financially. They investigate the situation by way of an interview, intervene with the person who has taken advantage of you and take the necessary steps to initiate your protection. They do not have a mandate to recover lost monies. So, if you need to recover your funds, you will require the services of a lawyer to give you access to Court.
It is imperative to recognize the signs of elder abuse and to extricate the elder person from the grasp of their abuser. You do not need to act alone. You can gain strength if you act with other members of the family or enlist the help of the Ottawa Police Services Elder Abuse Unit.
This kind of exposure of the abuse usually brings it to rest.
[This article was originally published in the April 2012 issue of The Community Voice for Seniors Bulletin from The Council of Aging of Ottawa.]