Our population is aging and incidents of elder abuse are increasing in line with this trend. Elder abuse is a serious issue in New Zealand, and Age Concern report that they receive around 2000 referrals a year, with the most common types being financial, physical and emotional. For every referral, there are, no doubt, many more cases which go unreported.
Financial abuse of the elderly can take many forms. At the lower, but still unacceptable, end of the scale, is pressure put on elderly parents by their children or others with regard to their financial affairs. In some cases, children may put pressure on parents not to use up their savings in order to preserve the children’s inheritance. Such pressure could see the elderly being persuaded not to move into a rest home or retirement village, not to take overseas trips or buy a new car, and not to borrow funds for living costs through home equity release. Alternatively, children or others, such as caregivers or friends, may pressure the elderly to give them money or possessions. Loans may not be paid back, or the elderly may be co-erced into providing security or guarantees for loans. Elderly parents can sometimes be forced to accommodate, with no payment, children with financial problems or grandchildren whose parents cannot care for them. This can cause significant financial hardship. At the higher end of the abuse scale, there can be misuse of powers of attorney to take money or straight out theft of money or possessions.
Elder abuse is not OK. We all have a duty to watch for signs of it and take action if necessary. This may include contacting other family members or caregivers, referring the matter to a community organisation such as Age Concern, consulting a solicitor, or contacting the police.