As beautiful as our golden years can be, an unfortunate reality to aging is an increase in vulnerability. We all know as our greying hair turns lighter, we become a little more prone to falls and illness every day. We jovially discuss the ups and downs of aging with family and friends, what we do about them and where to find help for the solemn aspects of our care. But there is also a topic regarding elder care that we as caregivers, family members, friends – and as the aging person – should be aware of.
Elderly abuse is a subject that many don’t want to talk about but let’s face it, pretending it doesn’t exist won’t make it go away. Yes, we, Malaysians, are generally raised to value filial piety in our families and upbringing. Yet it is not a value that everyone subscribes to. We have to acknowledge that it could happen to us unintentionally or otherwise.
Elderly abuse, like any other types of abuse, has emotional and unpleasant connotations made all the more complex in a culture where family pride is often measured by “the action of one reflects the whole”. Coupled with the lack of specific laws for elder care in Malaysia, including the welfare protection of the elderly –consultant geriatrician Dr Rajbans Singh said to The Star identifying elderly abuse becomes a lot more difficult.
Yet allowing elderly abuse and its’ enabling factors to continue isn’t an option. One of the most dominant types of abuse is financial abuse, which can leave the elderly victim destitute when left unchecked. According to a recent study, Public Policy & Aging Report, the study of financial abuse conducted in countries around the world found it to be either the most or second most common type of elder abuse.
The result supports the findings of the Department of Social and Preventative Medicine under Universiti Malaya’s Medical Faculty – reported in The Star’s article titled Aging and abused by their own. The report states that financial abuse is the most prevalent abuse in urban areas of Malaysia followed by psychological abuse. In rural areas the reverse is true.
Furthermore, according to an article in Forbes financial abuse of the elderly typically overlaps with other types of abuse such as physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse and neglect. With elderly abuse generally going unreported – as many see it as a “family problem” to be dealt with behind closed doors – attempting to curb it is all the more difficult. The problem will only grow as the elderly population in Malaysia increases to 15% by 2030.
Hence, to boldly address elder abuse we need to know how to identify it and be vigilant. Here are the defined signs of financial elder abuse in a domestic setting to look out for:
Financial abuse of the elderly
The National Centre on Elder Abuse defines financial or material exploitation as the “illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property, or assets”. In other words, if your money and assets – or your parent’s – is used without permission or in a fraudulent manner in any way, shape or form, it’s financial abuse.
Below are a few examples of the signs of financial abuse to be aware of that something is amiss. However, the list is not exhaustive and doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of bad scenarios. You need not look further than the 72 year old man with dementia that was abandoned by his son at a bus station.
- Sudden changes in your bank account with unexplained large sums of withdrawals
- Unexplained disappearance of funds and valuable possessions
- Abrupt changes in the will and/or other financial documents
- Provision of services that isn’t necessary for you or your parents
- Substandard care being provided or bills unpaid despite having adequate financial resources
- Discovery of signatures being forged for financial transactions or titles of other assets
When it comes to financial exploitation, we imagine someone behind a computer screen or a stranger tempting us with a convincing too-good-to-be-true scam for our money. While there are such cases, the reality is that ‘someone’ may not be a stranger. Our families and closest friends usually have our best interests at heart, but isn’t always the case. They can fail you as much as anyone else with dire consequences.
According to Health Link, financial abuse typically involves a family member or another person whom the older adult trusts. The abuse occurs when said family member or friend takes control of the financial decisions and the elderly person’s funds, sometimes not even intentionally.
As mentioned by Dr Rajbans Singh in The Star, most cases of unintentional abuse he has encountered are due to the lack of knowledge and understanding of elderly care by the caregivers or family members. Adult children may not realise that their actions are financially abusive or neglectful toward their parents due to their bad decision.
Intentional abuse and blind faith
On the other hand, there is the occasional rotten apple where a family member is intentionally abusive. You may have a family member with some form of impairment – such as substance abuse or mental illness – who has a dependency on you or your parents for varied reasons – like housing, transportation, money and even care – and typically relies on intimidation or physical abuse to get their way.
Understandably, you may be reluctant to take any action and resign yourself to become a victim of abuse because of familial ties. He is your son, daughter, brother, sister, etc. you may say. However, this is not someone you want managing your finances and it goes without saying; doing so does not improve relationships.
Much like The Star’s report on the 68-year-old clerk, whose son turned hostile after she handed him control of her finances and assets, it is unlikely the abuser’s behaviour will change with the handover of your financial resources. The end result of doing so would leave you impoverished financially and relationally.
Bear in mind you do not deserve abuse in any form, what more from any family member. Your accumulated wealth is the result of your hard work and you – or your elderly parents– deserve care when age catches up.
Seek preventive measures
Regardless of the cause of abuse – unintentional or otherwise – the fact is medical expenditure is costly and according to the Malaysian Health Insurance, medical treatment costs double every five years. You would need your funds to ensure you receive the care and support you deserve. Additionally, you also need to consider paying for living expenses other than the medical expenditure and care-support. Less you or your parents end up not having money to survive and living on the sidewalks.
Your golden years deserve to be one that is lived with dignity and happiness, a reward for the hard work and care you have given or received. Mistakes from ill-advised decisions or greed should not take that away from you.
To that end it would be prudent to obtain a living trust – a trust that acts like a will while you are alive and whereby you set money aside for your care – that is managed by a team of credible and experienced professionals. Hence, you would mitigate the chances of financial abuse in your later years. You should also seek out a professional Care Manager, who has access to extensive resources for consultation on the care-support you need, thereby avoiding bad decision-making related to care.
First Published in IMoney.my, May 23, 2016