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2019 SSAI Learning Awards

Lifting our Voices to Prevent Elder Abuse

June 17, 2019

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

This past Saturday, June 15th, was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD).  WEAAD is recognized both in America and internationally, and its purpose is to raise awareness about the millions of older adults who experience elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. This year’s theme was “Lift Our Voices.”

Did you know that as many as 1 in 10 older Americans are abused and neglected annually and only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse ever come to the attention of authorities?

Why aren’t more cases reported?   Many seniors live with the person that is abusing them either physically or financially and they are afraid to report the abuse.  Victims share feelings of shame for letting the abuse occur and helplessness at the thought of who will take care of them.

My Story

I am sharing a personal story about elder abuse to help you understand how easily it can happen and how vulnerable older adults can be, even with the involvement and support of loving family members.   It so happens to involve my dad. My 87-year-old dad is a retired combat veteran; a former Lt. Colonel in the United States Air Force.  My father was living independently in his own home and in excellent physical and mental health, or so we thought.  My sister has his medical power of attorney; he talked with his kids almost daily; and we thought we were prepared for his aging in place.   We were mistaken.

In 2015, my sister got a call from Dad’s bank.  Almost his entire savings of $200K was depleted in one month’s time. The rapidity of the depletion and frequency of the cash withdrawals raised a flag for the bank.  In talking with Dad, he reported that he was ashamed to tell us that he had been receiving phone calls from a man from New Jersey offering an investment deal too good to pass up.  All Dad had to do was mail funds in cash to this man.  In hindsight and with medical testing, we learned that Dad has been suffering from ministrokes.   His ministrokes were causing memory loss and cognitive impairment but not enough that we noticed. The ministrokes could have been caused by natural aging or a result of his career as a pilot.  There is no way of knowing.  These ministrokes impacted my dad’s judgment and memory.  Sometimes, when the man continued pressuring him with phone calls at home and on his cell at all hours of the day and night (as the phone records showed us) Dad recognized that this was wrong; that he shouldn’t mail money to a stranger, but Dad became afraid.   We’re not sure if the man threatened him, but we suspect he did. So, Dad kept making withdrawals and sending money.  Sometimes, dad didn’t remember that he had mailed money already to this man.  His fear, combined with his feelings of shame, combined with his cognitive deficits created a perfect storm for financial exploitation.

We filed a report with the police who referred us to the FBI.  Turns out, the FBI was monitoring this man in New Jersey but informed us that the man hadn’t broken any laws since my dad had mailed the cash on his own. Since my sister was not listed on Dad’s bank accounts also, she had no way of knowing what was happening with Dad’s account and the bank didn’t have anyone to contact sooner.

Aftermath

Dad, with the help of my sister, sold his home and moved in with her, where he was able to live in an en suite apartment and benefit from her supervision.  Yet, he has continued to have ministrokes which have led to a worsening memory and need for increased supervision for his own safety. Just this year, he moved into a secure memory care facility where he lives in his own apartment and receives 24 hours daycare paid for by his monthly military pension.

Today, I am grateful that he is safe and well-cared for and, yet, sad that he doesn’t remember me or my siblings, his grandchildren, or his great-grandchild.  As a family, we tend to focus on the positive, but don’t mistake me… I’m angry.  I’ve gone over and over again in mind, “How could this have happened?   What could we have done differently? What needs to be done so there are no more victims?”

Protect Your Loved Ones

To channel my energies, I am a vocal advocate on the top of elder abuse which is why I’m sharing my story in this blog.  I am also a member of the Elder Justice Coalition, a national advocacy group supporting elder justice initiatives. I tell everyone with aging parents:

  1. Get listed on their parents’ bank account(s)
  2. Monitor the account’s activity weekly online so you can identify questionable activity early (remember, my Dad lost his entire savings in just one month).
  3. Ask your bank what triggers “red flags” on accounts
  4. And, most important, talk often with your aging parents, in particular about the tough issues: medical power of attorney; durational will; and financial planning.

It is hard to step into more of a leadership role with our parents, but we have to become more of a team in planning for their aging in order to best support them.

If you have an elder abuse story to share, I urge you to “Lift Your Voice” too.   Please feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or Twitter.  Today there are approximately 51M Americans age 65 or older.  Aging is everyone’s future… let’s work together to make sure elder abuse is not part of that future.

By Christine Garland
Vice President of Workforce Development