Unless we have had to deal with it, most of us don’t think about elder abuse on a regular basis. We live in a small and friendly town after all – some might even call it a bit of a bubble. While it’s true that Revelstoke doesn’t see many cases of elder abuse here in town, that doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting those around us. In fact, elder abuse is on the rise and as the baby boomer generation continues to age, incidences of elder abuse will only continue to rise. A 2014 report by Vancity states that by 2030, as many as one in twelve seniors in Canada could be abused (The Invisible Crime: a Report on Senior Financial Abuse). This trend is not restricted to our province, or our country. In fact the UN has declared June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in response to the growing global trend.
Elder abuse can take several different forms: physical, emotional, neglect, over medicating, but financial abuse is the most common and is often accompanied by other forms of abuse, and generally takes place over an extended period of time.
Most of us are savvy to well-known Canada Revenue Agency scam calls or you’ve-just won-a-trip scams, but some older, more isolated people can be at increased risk to these types of scams. One local resident noticed his father’s answering machine was full of scam calls. “His dementia put him at risk [he was living on his own at the time]. Thankfully the family had already taken steps to protect his financial information because he was liable to do something irrational with it, but he seemed to be on some target list for scammer,” he explains.
In most cases however, emotional abuse and financial abuse also go hand in hand, and are often carried out by a trusted person such as a family member or close friend. Another local resident shares her story:
“It was really gradual and so subtle. My sister moved in with my mom 12 years ago, after my dad passed away. My sister struggled with employment and was working casually so this move seemed to be a good fit at the time. Slowly but inevitably my sister integrated herself into my mom’s life and essentially took over our mom’s life. My mother was getting older and didn’t want to upset our sister and allowed a lot of this to happen. We started to notice a swift decline in my mom’s cognition in the first few years. As well, we found ourselves in a position that finances were no longer managed by my mom and the burn rate was becoming out of control. Additionally my sister was at this time over-consuming and her drinking got progressively worse. It got to a point where we knew that my sister was putting pressure on our mom financially. Since my sister was managing the finances she was very aware of what would be left to her upon my mom’s passing and started to appeal for more, influencing our mom to go to her lawyer and change her will as set out with my father.”
Most often though, elder abuse goes un-reported. According to Cpl. Thomas Blakney of the Revelstoke RCMP, the reason it has been difficult to document and report on accurately is because people don’t tend to report it. This can be out of shame, or even fear, since most often the abuser is a caretaker or family relation.
What makes seniors more vulnerable?
Age-related mental illnesses can be a huge factor in someone’s vulnerability. A person living with dementia or Alzheimer’s is especially vulnerable because they can be easily convinced to do certain things that put their finances at risk – like changing the Power of Attorney, for example, or convincing someone to hand over their banking information.
Loneliness and social isolation also make seniors more vulnerable to abuse. When older adults lack the social supports and are living on their own for example, it is much harder for the abuse to get detected. It may also make them more vulnerable to fraudulent calls, fraudulent labourers, and more. Often when it is carried out by a family member, it can be subtle to begin with and the “caring” family member or friend slowly being to strip away the older person’s finances, eventually convincing the older person (usually with declining mental health) that they are doing things in their best interest.
“Vulnerabilities increase as we age and become compounded by things like lack of mobility, lack of social connectedness, lack of mental stimulation and can result in a decline in mental health,” explains Stephanie Melnyk of the RCMP Victim Services. “But really anyone is susceptible to any of these at any age – if someone gets injured and cannot work, move freely from place to place or say, get their groceries, it makes them much more susceptible to abuse.” She has worked in the past with elderly and vulnerable adults who were more at risk because they were socially isolated and lacked the social support structures that could have flagged the issue early on.
It takes a village
Organizations like the Revelstoke Credit Union are familiar with financial abuse “Revelstoke Credit Union’s frontline staff are a frequent point of contact for many senior citizens in Revelstoke who may not socialize or visit with many other people on a regular basis, and in some cases are the only people they may see in a day,” explains Jamie at the Revelstoke Credit Union. “RCU Account Services staff have each been trained to recognize fraud of all types for telltale signs of financial abuse of senior citizens. One of the most important things to understand is that financial abuse might be coming from unlikely sources like international fraudsters or family members. We have a unique position in Revelstoke as a community bank where we deal confidentially with friends, family and neighbours. The close nature of our community gives us a bit of extra insight into a senior’s personal situation that may help to prevent financial abuse. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that abuse does occur, and our idyllic little mountain town is not immune from it.”
As a community, we can help prevent elder abuse by being “good neighbours” – yes we should still shovel walks and help our senior neighbours – but we need to go beyond this, and engage with those in our community, especially those that are less mobile and tend to be more isolated. It can then be easier to notice changes in temperament, in outward appearance, and more. Engaging with our local elders can be an enriching experience for everyone. The Revelstoke Community Response Network has been working to prevent elder abuse at the root, by doing intergenerational work between school aged kids and seniors of the day program at Moberly Manor. The best way to stop elder abuse is by preventing it altogether. Celebrating our seniors and fostering bonds between young, old and community members of all ages is a proactive way of nipping the bud at the root, alleviating discomfort around aging and the elderly, and creating a stronger community.
If you are being abused, or if you suspect a senior you know may be abused, there are resources that can help. Senior’s First BC has an anonymous number that you can call to report it, and obtain further resources: 1-866-437-1940.