Photo: Kelly Sikkema

Be alert to elder abuse and speak up

Elder abuse can be psychological, financial, physical or sexual. It affects both men and women. It occurs regardless of a person’s race, religion, class or sexual orientation. It takes many forms, such as verbal abuse or humiliation, physical harm, prevention of decision-making, denial of contact or social isolation.

Age Concern receives over 2,000 reports of elder abuse each year and many more cases go unreported. Often there is more than one form of abuse to contend with. A threat to restrict or cut off contact with family and/or grandchildren is psychological abuse but may be used to force an elder person to agree to provide money, which is financial abuse.

A case in point: staff at a rest home became concerned about a family member who had started to regularly visit an elderly resident whom we shall call Anne (not her real name) and take her out on outings two or three times a week.

The rest home staff contacted one of Anne’s property attorneys, who visited Anne to talk about the concerns staff had raised. Anne was reticent about talking about the family member and what happened on their outings so the attorney decided to check on Anne’s bank accounts. Anne’s transactional history had changed radically. The account had gone from being rarely used to being used multiple times.

The family member had inveigled himself into Anne’s confidence and had obtained her PIN number. Anne knew the family member was using her eftpos card but didn’t want to say anything to anyone because he had threatened to stop visiting or take her out, and she had enjoyed the company and attention.

The matter was resolved quickly by the attorney, who went to the bank and instructed the branch manager to cancel Anne’s eftpos card immediately.

Not surprisingly, the family member’s visits to Anne stopped immediately after his access to her funds was removed.

This is one of many instances of elder abuse I am aware of and it sits at the lighter end of the scale. Other cases include an elderly person being locked in a room with no toileting or showering facilities, or an elderly person being coerced into signing a loan agreement or the wholesale withdrawal of funds from bank accounts.

The most insidious part of elder abuse is the lack of reporting. We know that only one in four cases will be reported to agencies such as Age Concern or the police and that’s not OK. Elder abuse is not OK.

If an elderly family member or friend has stopped having sufficient funds to pay their regular bills or stops doing a hobby they enjoy because they can’t afford it, speak up and contact the 24-hour helpline – 0800 326 6865 – to be directed to the nearest Elder Abuse Response Service.

About Fleur McDonald

Fleur McDonald
After nearly 15 years at two Christchurch firms, Fleur has set up her own practice, Fleur McDonald Legal. Fleur has established herself as an elder law specialist and deals with all areas of property, asset protection and estate planning, with a particular speciality in helping seniors and their families. Her commitment to finding the best results for all her clients is at the heart of her service.