Elderly struggle as family grab cash

By Sandra Conchie

A growing number of elderly people are getting into debt because they are bailing family members out of financial strife.

There are reports that some family members use extortion or stand-over tactics to obtain enduring power of attorney or take control of the victim's finances to help buy their own home, or build up their own business.

Grandchildren have also persuaded their grandparents to become a guarantor on a hire purchase agreements or loans and when the young person can't pay, the grandparent was being left to foot the bill.

Tauranga Household Budgeting Service manager Marjorie Spicer said she was seeing more and more elderly clients struggling because their children or other relatives were hitting them up for cash.

"Some people don't think anything of bleeding their own parents dry and think it is their right to do so, she said.

Other social agencies in the area agree that "elder abuse" - especially when it involved money - was on the rise and are urging victims to speak up about it.

Presbyterian Support Services' Older Persons' Advocacy and Liaison Service coordinator, Faye Falloon, said cash- strapped older people were often taken financial advantage of by their own son or daughter, or another close relative.

Latest national statistics show 5 per cent of all elderly people were abused at some point, but there were many more cases which would never come to light.

"That's because the victim is often too scared or ashamed to report it. That has got to change. People must speak out."

As for those victims who do report it, the abuse can often have been going on for months and in some cases, years.

"Often the abuser is an adult child who was spoilt or over-indulged as a youngster and has never been made to take responsibility for their own finances or set any boundaries on the level of acceptable behaviour."

Mrs Falloon said an 85-year-old Tauranga woman recently handed over her bank card to her cousin to pay the bills while she was in hospital. But once she was discharged, the cousin refused to give it back and also tried to persuade the elderly lady to sell her house.

"This lady was in a real fix ... by the time we got involved and assisted another relative to confront the cousin, the lady's bank account was hundreds of dollars lighter," she said.

"Trust and vulnerability are the two big factors when it comes to abuse, as often the older person is in such a vulnerable position and trusts their abuser implicitly. Unfortunately that trust can be exploited."

Mrs Falloon said financial and psychological abuse can soon lead to physical abuse - one 70-year-old Tauranga woman was assaulted by her alcoholic son after she refused to give him her credit card.

"The key to breaking the cycle of abuse is not to keep silent about it. The abused person must talk to someone they trust about it."

Lorraine Wilson, president of Tauranga Age Concern, agreed.

"Speaking out is the key. Whether it is to their vicar, their GP, their neighbour, Samaritans or Age Concern, or another confidant. Keeping things bottled up will only drag the person down further," she said.

Mrs Wilson said insidious forms of abuse often cut the deepest.

Such as family members who only visited to hit the victim up for cash - often using false promises that they would pay it back - or children who refused to allow their parents to go into a rest home because they didn't want to be deprived of their inheritance.

Others take advantage of the elderly person's declining mental health to seize control of their assets.

"Slowly but surely the abuse will escalate. And in my experience it is often the abused person's son-in-law who is calling the shots and providing the bullets for the victim's daughter to fire.

"Because the abuser is often a family member or close friend, the victim feels powerless to act, either because they feel ashamed or fear retribution.

"But their silence only allows the abuse to continue unchecked," she said.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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