A “tsunami” of financial abuse targeting elderly populations is coming over the next 10 years, April Struthers of the BC Association of Community Response Networks (BCACR) warned members of the Coast’s health and financial sectors during a June 8 workshop.
Bank staff and accountants were among those in attendance for a seminar that aimed to help professionals identify the signs of financial abuse, as well as the right ways to respond.
“It’s a hidden issue,” said Struthers. “We still don’t see the problem.”
The Special Senate Committee on Aging’s report, published in 2011, highlighted factors that could lead to the increased financial abuse of elders, Struthers said.
Among those factors are the recent downturns in the economy, an aging population that is among the wealthiest in history — and a sense of entitlement that has permeated our modern culture.
“The next generation coming up is the first in many years to be less well off than their parents. That has a lot of implications socially,” she said.
“The picture’s building of the potential for people to think they’re entitled to the wealth that is held by older adults.”
She told those in attendance that a community’s response to a suspected case of financial abuse is best served before the situation becomes a crisis, one that could involve outright theft and chronic struggles with poverty.
But intervening could be difficult when the social reflex is to help protect an elder’s independence, warned Struthers. A senior who attended the event agreed.
“Some people, they’re very competent, but they’re very lonely,” she said. “We’re not all the same, we’re individuals and we need to be treated as individuals. Our independence is one of the most valuable things to us and we resist getting help.”
Those in the financial sector might be privy to the warning signs before social workers, like Betty Owen with Vancouver Coastal Health.
But deciding when to make a call to social services or mental health to report suspected abuse might be a difficult decision to make, Owen said.
“There may be abuse going on but the person may be able to seek support and services on their own,” she explained. “People have a right to be self-determining. They have a right to say I want this to continue or this is the way I want things to go.”
One Sunshine Coast banker said she had experienced a situation where an elderly resident attempted to mortgage their home under the direction of a family member.
Struthers explained other difficult situations that could complicate the identification of abuse, such as power of attorney arrangements and cash withdrawals.