Community Care

Elder & Financial Abuse

Jules Roebbelen
,
October 17, 2019
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It’s an ugly topic. We hate to think of seniors in our community being affected by elder abuse. We want to believe the best in everyone. But it’s not unwise to be prepared. Recognize the signs and know what to do if you suspect elder abuse.

Elder abuse affects between 4% and 10% of seniors in Canada, but only 20% of those cases are addressed. People with dementia and Alzheimer’s are at a higher risk of all forms of abuse compared to those with sound cognition. Seniors living alone or recently widowed are much more likely to be financially abused, whereas those living with their caregivers are more often physically or emotionally abused. Abuse can quickly lead to a downward spiral of other health risks such as depression and isolation.

The most common form of elder abuse is Financial Abuse. The elder will be pressured into giving money to a friend or younger relative, and will be bullied if they ask for the money to be repaid. Because the abuser is often a loved one, the elder may feel guilty for asking for the money back or saying no to the person. It could be as small as a few dollars every week, or as serious as signing over a Power of Attorney and losing their home. Complicated by the close relationship between the abuser and the abused, the elder feels hopeless to find a solution.

As a caregiver, learn the signs of financial abuse.

  • Things going missing from the home or possessions being "given away"
  • Overdue bills, despite having a nice home
  • Poor or changing living conditions, despite financial stability
  • Sudden changes in the living situation under the pretence of needing more help (e.g., moving to a long term care facility, or family members moving in)
  • Off hand remarks regarding money confusion, stress, or giving money to a family member

The key is awareness. If you suspect one of your clients is experiencing elder abuse, ensure them that speaking to you is safe and that you want to help. Ask if they have signed any documents they didn’t understand or were forced to sign. Ask if money has been taken or borrowed and not returned. Ask if there have been any changes to the home made without their permission, such as someone moving in, or possessions being taken or sold. There are excellent resources such as CASE and BASE screening tools to help you determine whether or not someone may be abused. If it is clear that the elder is being taken advantage of, you can encourage them to speak to the police or a lawyer to get help.

Here are some tips and tricks to to help avoid financial abuse before it starts.

  • Keep financial information such as cheque books, PINs and passwords safely stored.
  • Keep a record as to whether money you have given out was a loan or a gift.
  • Have a lawyer look over any legal documents that someone may want you to sign.
  • Do not give Power or Attorney (POA) or a joint bank account to someone you suspect may take advantage of the situation, even if they are pressuring you to do so.
  • If you are worried about another family member, make sure the POA you assign understands the threat that any specific persons may pose to your finances or wellbeing.
  • Include a clause so that the POA must continue to use your same financial adviser (someone you already know, trust and who understands your intentions).
  • Empower your lawyer, bank manager and accountant to all speak to one another to discuss the POA's actions to ensure everything is always in good standing and to share suspicions. A collective set of “red flags” regarding the POA from different perspectives makes a stronger case to point out abuse.
  • Ask for help! Always! Calling 911 is always an option if you feel threatened or mistreated.

Frauds & scams are also serious threats to seniors. You can learn more here. Further resources are elder abuse can be found at CNPEA and INPEA.

Don’t forget: you can always refer your patient to an Elder Abuse Consultation clinic through your Caredove network.

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