EL­DER ABUSE SPE­CIAL IN­VES­TI­GA­TION:

El­derly Aus­tralians are be­ing ne­glected and abused by those who are clos­est to them. Su­san Chen­ery inds that the inan­cial abuse of older Aus­tralians very of­ten be­gins at home.

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Contents - AWW

at risk from those clos­est to them

Janet Mack­ozdi, 77, died of hy­pother­mia in a ship­ping con­tainer at Mount Lloyd, Tas­ma­nia in 2010. With de­men­tia and in de­te­ri­o­rat­ing health, she had been in the care of her daugh­ter, Jassy Anglin, a nurse, and son-in-law, Michael Anglin, a dis­abil­ity sup­port worker. A court would nd that the cou­ple had re­jected out­side of­fers of med­i­cal help, iso­lated her from her GP and re­fused of­fers of a place in a nurs­ing home, leav­ing her un­able to get help, and told her bank not to in­quire into her nances. The court found they had spent three­quar­ters of her money, in­clud­ing sell­ing her at. Had Janet re­ceived the proper care, the court found, she could have had “plenty of life in front of her”.

This was, said Coun­cil on the Age­ing Tas­ma­nia Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Sue Leitch, “a clas­sic case of el­der abuse”.

“The ma­jor type of el­der abuse is nan­cial,” says Bris­bane solic­i­tor

Brian Herd, who spe­cialises in el­der law. “The re­al­ity is that most of it is un­de­tected and it is mas­sive. It is so easy: you get the pass­word and you are in.”

Brian be­lieves that nan­cial abuse of the el­derly is mo­ti­vated by two pri­mary fac­tors: greed and control. “They go together. It is dif cult to abuse an older per­son un­less you control their nances. You need to have them un­der your control, iso­lat­ing them, keep­ing them out of con­tact with the out­side world. In the anonymity of the in­ter­net, it is very dif cult to iden­tify it.”

When Richard Wa­ters’ [not his real name] daugh­ter was mar­ried, it was de­cided that she would live in his house and the new­ly­weds would build a granny at out the back for Richard. Be­cause it is dif cult for an older per­son to bor­row money, he trans­ferred the house into the chil­dren’s name so they could bor­row to build the at. But when Richard be­gan to show signs of de­men­tia, be­com­ing a bit er­ratic, they kicked him out. “They said, ‘You can’t come here; we don’t want you around the chil­dren.’ The house was in their name, he had no rights what­so­ever,” says Suzanne Hop­man, co-founder of the home­less char­ity, Dig­nity.

Sadly, this is an all too com­mon story. Suzanne says she sees around

ve cases a week where el­derly peo­ple have be­come home­less be­cause of nan­cial abuse.

The granny at, says Brian, is in the­ory a good idea. But once as­sets are trans­ferred to a child, prob­lems can oc­cur. A par­ent can end up with no rights and no home. “It is usu­ally an oral ar­range­ment which is not doc­u­mented. Mum or Dad’s as­set was meant to be com­pen­sa­tion for car­ing for them. But they are hon­ey­pots for chil­dren. Peo­ple don’t think about the com­plex­i­ties of sons-in-law, daugh­ters-in-law, mar­riage break-ups, di­vorce. It can end up in ex­pen­sive le­gal pro­ceed­ings when there is a need to pay for aged care and the money is tied up in the house.”

Brian says that, to avoid mis­placed trust, any trans­fer­ring of as­sets should in­volve le­gal doc­u­ments. “Signed doc­u­ments en­dorsed by the other chil­dren. Of­ten the other chil­dren don’t nd out the money is gone un­til the par­ent has died.”

Fi­nan­cial abuse is of­ten hid­den, un­der-re­ported and in­sid­i­ous. It comes from the peo­ple the el­derly love and trust the most – their own chil­dren and rel­a­tives, the peo­ple who are sup­posed to care for them. But be­hind closed doors, there is a grab­bing of as­sets.

Brian says most of his cases come from “whis­tle-blow­ers” or aged care fa­cil­i­ties where the bills are no longer be­ing paid be­cause the money is gone.

“Peo­ple are putting their par­ents into a home to get ac­cess to their nances or their prop­erty,” says

Jan Barham, a for­mer NSW Greens spokesper­son on age­ing. “With in­her­i­tance an­tic­i­pa­tion and peo­ple be­ing kept alive longer with med­i­cal im­prove­ments, you have the most amaz­ing ar­ray of cir­cum­stances where things can go wrong.”

Re­search shows that women over the age of 80 are at the great­est risk of nan­cial abuse, and that adult sons are the most com­mon per­pe­tra­tors – 63 per cent of per­pe­tra­tors of el­der abuse are sons and daugh­ters. Very of­ten th­ese are peo­ple who can’t get into the prop­erty mar­ket but whose el­derly par­ent is sit­ting on sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars in real es­tate.

In 2013-14, the El­der Abuse Pre­ven­tion Unit found a to­tal of

$56.7 mil­lion was mis­ap­pro­pri­ated from 139 el­der abuse vic­tims. “We know that is in­creas­ing,” says Age Dis­crim­i­na­tion Com­mis­sioner Kay Pat­ter­son, “be­cause the hot­lines re­ported a dou­bling [in calls] in the last year. I can’t tell you how bad it is.”

In old age, peo­ple are at their most vul­ner­a­ble. Many have a di­min­ished sense of self-con dence or feel that they no longer have a voice. Those who are iso­lated or de­pen­dent, per­haps be­cause of phys­i­cal dis­abil­ity or de­men­tia, are at the great­est risk. They might sign over their house or go guar­an­tor on a loan with­out re­al­is­ing the im­pli­ca­tions of that. Sud­denly they nd the house is not theirs or is mort­gaged to the hilt,

“Peo­ple are putting their par­ents into a home to ac­cess their nances.”

there have been no re­pay­ments and they have to leave.

“We see it ev­ery day – peo­ple los­ing control of their nances just as they are be­com­ing more frail in their health,” says Bren­dan French, Group Cus­tomer Ad­vo­cate at the Com­mon­wealth Bank.

Chris­tine Mat­tey, Se­nior Con­sul­tant at the NSW El­der Abuse Helpline and Re­source Unit, says “a lot of [el­derly] peo­ple do it will­ingly – give money to their chil­dren as­sum­ing they will have a house for the rest of their lives on a hand­shake, rather than hav­ing things in writ­ing.” Or they will give a loan and then re­alise it is not go­ing to be re­paid. And while most peo­ple have a duty of care to their par­ents and don’t ex­ploit them when they be­come frail, or see them as an un­earned pay day, oth­ers have a sense of en­ti­tle­ment – the at­ti­tude of, ‘it’s go­ing to be my money one day any­way’.

“There are the threats,” says Chris­tine, “of los­ing re­la­tion­ships, of ‘you won’t see me or the grand­chil­dren’. Peo­ple want to main­tain re­la­tion­ships with their grand­chil­dren par­tic­u­larly ... The psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse that en­ables the nan­cial abuse can be pow­er­ful. It is about co­er­cion. The older per­son be­comes a cash cow and there is no ex­cuse to do that to some­body.”

Of­ten, el­derly peo­ple stay silent be­cause there is a sense of shame at­tached to the abuse. “They don’t want the courts to be in­volved,” says Dr Pat­ter­son. “So peo­ple un­der-re­port it. They feel like it is their fault. ‘What have I done that my chil­dren are do­ing this to me?’” Oth­ers sim­ply don’t know where to re­port it or how to get help.

“And there is that sense of parental re­spon­si­bil­ity,” adds Chris­tine, “the sense that ‘I am go­ing to look after my child even if it means enor­mous sacri ce and loss’.”

In sub­mis­sions to the NSW Law Re­form in­quiry into el­der abuse, one woman spoke of her blind mother, who had lung cancer. She had stopped eat­ing and was go­ing to bed by 5pm to save on heat­ing and food costs so that she could give the money to her bul­ly­ing son.

In an­other sub­mis­sion made to the NSW par­lia­men­tary in­quiry into el­der abuse, a 66-year-old woman, who was man­ag­ing her schizophre­nia with help from her GP, was taken from her home in Can­berra to live with her daugh­ter in Queens­land. Her daugh­ter took her mo­bile phone from her, used her bank ac­counts ve or six times a day, maxed out her credit cards and bank ac­counts on res­tau­rants, clothes, overseas hol­i­days and cruises, while leav­ing her mother locked in the house. When the money ran out, her daugh­ter took out loans in her name for which she is now li­able.

Brian Herd says that “iso­la­tion is the big­gest tac­tic of the abuser: putting Mum and Dad in a prison and not al­low­ing other peo­ple to have ac­cess to them, or con­trol­ling that ac­cess. When you start see­ing iso­la­tion and re­stric­tion to other peo­ple, you have ask what is go­ing on.”

Other fam­ily mem­bers, friends, neigh­bours, com­mu­nity car­ers, doc­tors, lawyers and nan­cial ser­vices pro­fes­sion­als need to be aware of the warn­ing signs. The signs to look for are that the per­son does not have the ready ac­cess to money that they once did; is hav­ing dif culty pay­ing bills; is not eat­ing or be­ing ad­e­quately nour­ished. There might also be un­ex­plained dis­ap­pear­ances of pos­ses­sions; signi cant bank with­drawals; un­usual ac­tiv­ity on credit cards; changes to a will; so­cial iso­la­tion (not open­ing the door to peo­ple or an­swer­ing the phone). The block­ing of visi­tors is a red ag that can in­di­cate abuse in many sit­u­a­tions.

“Peo­ple some­times take years to come to terms with the idea that their esh and blood, their baby who they have in­cul­cated with all their own val­ues, is ac­tu­ally do­ing them harm now,” says Greg Mah­ney, for­mer CEO of Ad­vocare. Many older peo­ple hand over ATM cards be­cause they’re hav­ing trou­ble get­ting to the shops or the chemist for med­i­ca­tion – they trust­ingly give out pin num­bers.

“Many peo­ple do the right thing but some peo­ple will take out $100 for the older per­son and $500 for them­selves. It can be rel­a­tively small amounts but we also see a num­ber of cases each year where peo­ple have sold Mum and Dad’s house. We have seen lots of cases like that,” he adds.

If one per­son has been given En­dur­ing Power of At­tor­ney, oth­ers

can nd them­selves pow­er­less to in­ter­vene. “The En­dur­ing Power of At­tor­ney ap­points mem­bers of the fam­ily to make de­ci­sions for some­one if they lose ca­pac­ity,” says Brian.

“The law doesn’t re­ally have any ac­count­abil­ity of the Power of At­tor­ney. It im­poses re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and du­ties on them but there is no mech­a­nism to en­sure that they are com­ply­ing with their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, un­less some­one blows the whis­tle.”

One woman re­ported that, after her 93-year-old mother with Alzheimer’s had signed Power of At­tor­ney to her solic­i­tor brother, $3 mil­lion van­ished. Her mother was named on boards of com­pa­nies, she was evicted from her house after it was sold, and then ousted from a care home be­cause the bills were not paid.

Brian ad­vises older peo­ple to give En­dur­ing Power of At­tor­ney to more than one per­son to re­duce the risk, and Dr Pat­ter­son ad­vises that peo­ple un­der­stand what rights they have in terms of the Power of At­tor­ney and know that they can re­voke it.

Chris­tine Mat­tey says fam­i­lies should have con­ver­sa­tions around care and Power of At­tor­ney as early as pos­si­ble, while the par­ent is not yet in­ca­pac­i­tated. She also stresses that the el­der per­son should be open and hon­est, “trans­par­ent about their wishes, so that ev­ery­one is clear about what that per­son wants”. And when the older per­son has lost the ca­pac­ity to un­der­stand, they should still be con­sid­ered in the mak­ing of all de­ci­sions. It is im­por­tant that the per­son with the re­spon­si­bil­ity for the el­derly per­son’s life un­der­stands what they would want if they were able to choose for them­selves.

At­ti­tudes to older peo­ple need to change and ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion needs to im­prove if we’re to re­verse the in­creas­ing nan­cial abuse of older Aus­tralians.

El­der abuse, says Dr Pat­ter­son, “is ev­ery­body’s busi­ness. There needs to be a sense of see some­thing, say some­thing.” We shouldn’t ‘turn a blind eye’ to a neigh­bour who is sud­denly re­ceiv­ing fewer visi­tors or a cus­tomer who is hav­ing trou­ble with bills or buy­ing less food.

She knows of an el­derly man whose wife had died, he had no chil­dren and was liv­ing alone in his house. Some­one saw a ‘For Sale’ sign up and rang com­mu­nity po­lice.

“His neigh­bour had put a stile across the fence to get in and help him, but they had also helped them­selves to ev­ery­thing he had, plus his Power of At­tor­ney. When the po­lice ar­rived, he was ema­ci­ated and de­hy­drated, and died ve days later.”

“Older peo­ple”, says Dr Pat­ter­son, “have the right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion. Stereo­types and lazy as­sump­tions must not be al­lowed to di­min­ish older peo­ple’s rights to ex­er­cise their au­ton­omy and have their choices re­spected. That is a ba­sic hu­man right and it is non-ne­go­tiable.”

Jassy Anglin and Michael Anglin (right) were found guilty in 2015 of the man­slaugh­ter of Mrs Anglin’s mother Janet, who died of hy­pother­mia after spend­ing a night in a ship­ping con­tainer on their prop­erty (above).

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