An elderly Nanaimo man is invited to convalesce in Vancouver at the home of his son and son’s girlfriend after receiving ankle surgery.
Soon after arriving he’s asked to pay into food and house expenses and his bank account is switched to a joint account in Vancouver where his pension cheques are deposited.
The father can’t leave the house on his own because of the cast on his leg and is only allowed to visit his new doctor on the mainland, nor can he go shopping without his son’s girlfriend along.
He’s forced to sleep in the home’s computer room with no privacy.
He’s not allowed to take his walker on outings or take his medications with him for a family Christmas visit to Nanaimo that he pleaded for.
During his stay family members take him to his original doctor who’s astounded to discover the man is still, nearly a year later, wearing the cast that should have been removed a month after the surgery.
The doctor has the cast removed, prescribes fresh medications and gets the man a walker.
Four to 10 per cent of elderly people in B.C. will suffer mistreatment, often at the hands of loved ones.
To raise awareness about the problem and get abused seniors the help they need, Nanaimo Family Life Association has formed the Emerging Elders program.
“That number could actually be higher because they estimate that there could be an additional 10 per cent or more who never report,” said Floyd Blades, Emerging Elders program coordinator. “So it’s a tough situation because our population of seniors is going up so rapidly.
By 2038, one in four people in Canada, or about 12.5 million of an predicted of population of 50 million, will be over 65.
“If this is happening to four per cent of them, that’s a frightening amount of people,” Blades said.
Most often a caregiver manages to get themselves into a position of power over the victim.
“The dynamic of the abuse spectrum for seniors keeps the power and control aspect hidden, because in many cases abusers are triangulating against the system and the family at the same time,” Blades said. “There are circumstances where abusers will actively alienate and threaten family members so they can maintain their control and then when someone comes along and asks what’s going on in the situation their response is, ‘Well, we haven’t seen the family in so long and no one comes around and we just kind of stepped up to help this person.’ The next thing you know when you peel the layer off, there’s something really, really unpleasant going on underneath.”
Reports of cases, like the Nanaimo man confined in Vancouver, are on the rise.
The seven major forms of abuse include physical, psychological and emotional abuse, financial abuse or exploitation, sexual, medication abuse, violation of civil and human rights in the form of alienation or isolation of a senior from family and friends, neglect and self-neglect.
“Each one of these appears in various circumstances,” Blades said. “In some cases they discover that several kinds of abuse may be going on. Once the abuse starts, if it remains untouched, it tends to accelerate.”
Some of the rise in abuse is coming from the emergence of the “sandwich generation,” Blades said, of people already working and taking care of their children and homes, who are forced into a situation where their parents must move in with them and be cared for as well.
The Emerging Elders program is focused on being an active part of preventing the continuation and rise in elder abuse and is currently recruiting a pool of volunteers to deliver workshops to various groups and organizations around Nanaimo.
Nanaimo Family Life also runs the senior peer counselling program, which helped the elderly man in the example after the man’s family got him in contact with a counsellor. Together they formed a plan to keep him safe while his situation was dealt with. He is now living in his own home and has reconnected with his friends and family.
Sgt. Sheryl Armstrong, Nanaimo RCMP spokeswoman, said education is one key to help prevent elder abuse. Nanaimo RCMP members and RCMP victim services give seminars and workshops in seniors facilities to help people recognize signs of mistreatment and spot scams.
“If you look on the Island, there are a lot of seniors who retire here because of the weather and their family members may not be here, so it’s easy for them to be taken advantage of,” Armstrong said.
She cited a case where a hired companion caregiver won the trust of a senior and got power of attorney over his accounts.
“So the family didn’t notice anything, it started out slowly with her just buying the groceries,” Armstrong said. “Before everything was over and done with she’d taken over $200,000. That kind of stuff happens a lot.”
Programs like Emerging Elders and senior peer counselling can be excellent referral conduits to a wide range of services available to help seniors such as Vancouver Island Health Authority’s senior outreach Team.
“There are programs out there, but how do they reach them?” Armstrong asked.
To become a volunteer or learn more about the Emerging Elders program, please visit the Nanaimo Family Life Association website at www.nflabc.org.