Elder Care

Stolen Money and Stolen Health

Financial abuse is one of the most common forms of abuse reported by older adults.

From The Canadian Health Network

My grandson is taking money from me. Every time he comes to visit me at home, some money goes missing. I suspect that it must be him. I do not want to cause any problems between us since we have always been very close. I might even give him the money if he asked.

Is he committing a crime? Is he stealing from me?

Financial abuse is one of the most common forms of abuse reported by older adults. A senior who is financially abused is often also subject to other types of abuse, such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Most financial abuse of older adults is by members of their own families. Older adults may also be the victims of financial fraud, specifically targeted at seniors.

The financial exploitation of older adults is under reported, as with many forms of abuse.

What is financial abuse of seniors?

When someone steals, threatens or misuses a power of attorney to take money or property from older adults, this is financial abuse.

Examples of financial abuse include when someone:

  • forces, tricks, or pressures someone to sell or give away property
  • takes money or other valuables without permission
  • sells a house or other property without permission
  • refuses to move out of someone’s home
  • stays in the home but refuses to pay for rent or other expenses.

Financial abuse hurts

Having enough money is a determining factor of general health. The loss of level of income that can be the result of financial abuse is stressful, and may affect some seniors’ ability to deal with the difficulties in their lives, particularly those who are already living on low incomes.

Financial abuse can make it more difficult for an older person to afford to maintain a healthy lifestyle, with good nutrition and physical activity. It may also compromise his or her ability to live independently.

Other consequences include mental health problems, such as increased anxiety or depression and a loss of self-worth.

Theft of trust: when seniors are at risk

Older adults are at a higher risk of financial abuse, than the general population.

Seniors are especially at risk if they:

  • live with someone who is financially dependent on them ( e.g. adult son or daughter)
  • live with someone on whom they are physically or financially dependent
  • have a past history of abuse
  • are poor
  • are disabled
  • are socially isolated, with little contact with friends or the community.

Who are the abusers?

Financial abuse of seniors is most often done by their spouse or partner, a family member or caregiver.

It is hard to imagine why family members would abuse their loved ones. Research has identified some factors that are common in all forms of abuse. While the presence of these factors does not mean that abuse will occur, abusers often have a:

  • history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • history of mental illness
  • sense of entitlement to a family members money or assets
  • high level of stress.

Financial abuse is often hidden

Health professionals, neighbours and friends may mistake signs of abuse of seniors as symptoms of senility or disease, and as a result, may not report the abuse.

Older adults who are being victimized may not report abuse, including financial abuse, because of:

  1. feelings of guilt, shame or fear
  2. dependence on their abuser
  3. a wish to continue their relationship with the abuser, especially if the abuser is a family member
  4. physical or cognitive inability to report the abuse
  5. a belief that the police or other authorities will be unable to help them
  6. fear that the abuse will worsen if the abuser finds out they have been reported.

Know the warning signs of financial abuse

  1. unpaid bills when there should be enough money to pay them
  2. unexplained disappearance of money or valuables
  3. sudden changes to someone’s will or other documents
  4. sudden changes in banking practices
  5. forged signatures.

Source: Canadian Health Network – Copyright 2007. All Rights Reserved