It came as a shock to Alyse when she realized her mother had dementia. More shocking still, she had been the victim of financial elder abuse.
My mom was the most organized, bright, self-sufficient person I knew. Then one day, I was in her bedroom with her and just opened one of her drawers for something to do expecting to close it immediately. It was filled with unopened mail. I looked further. They were bills that had never gotten paid. What in the world was going on? All of her mail was always put on the kitchen table which she used as her office. Money was not the problem. When I asked she blamed her lapse in organizational skills on the recovery from a back problem she had. I paid the bills and really thought nothing of it. Turned out, I was wrong!!
One day when I was there, I answered a phone call from a generator company that stated that they wanted to schedule a time to put in her state-of-the-art generator for a massive amount of money. I said to cancel the order, but she had already signed an agreement for $850 a month for the service besides the equipment. Who was this woman and where did my mother go? I slowly began to get everything together and noticed signs of financial elder abuse. For instance, a monthly charge was being put onto her card from Elements Massage, but she did not even get massages. It was time to take over my mother’s affairs, but she was still cognitively aware-most of the time.
My own mother then accused me of stealing her money, because I could no longer leave cards or check books with her because she was sending money to every place that sent her a letter asking for it. Elder abuse at its finest! I thought we were prepared because there was a will and I had power of attorney for her health. Again, I was wrong. Her finances were a mess and she had accounts, stocks, and funds set up in many, many places.
Each and every bank, credit card company, fund, and doctor needed proof of power of attorney from me, but each place went about it in a different way and with her new back problems, I could not get her out of the house. The worst part is that my family did not agree on the most important decision which was how we were going to take care of her. She had gotten married a few years before and she desperately wanted to stay in the house with him.
My children were beyond amazing. They went to every assisted living and nursing home in the area to find the perfect fit for their grandmother. But there was a problem – they believed the information that the homes were telling them. The facilities were adamant that if my mom pushed a button at any time of the day or night that someone would be there within a minute. They also lauded their meal programs but none addressed how she would get to the area for her meals. She wasn’t walking. It was clear they would say anything to get your loved one as a ‘customer’.
I am begging everyone that reads this, take care of everything in advance of when it will be needed. Have everything in place to make it easier for your children and for your children to follow your wishes. I always say that I want someone to kill me before I get like that. My mom said that too, yet here I am finding every way to keep her alive.
Editors note: according to the National Adult Protective Services Association 1 in 9 seniors report being abused, neglected or exploited in the last 12 months. 1 in 20 of these pertains to financial abuse yet only 1 in 44 such cases are ever reported. If you suspect elder abuse of any kind you can visit http://www.napsa-now.org/get-help/how-aps-helps/ to find out what actions you can take. You can also call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 / 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
Alyse Poteshman is a multiple endocrine neoplasia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia survivor. She’s been through a lot but it hasn’t stopped her from getting two Master’s degrees (one in learning disabilities and one in educational administration) and having a robust career in education. Alyse is in her late 50s now, has three daughters, one grandson. After all she’s been through, tells people she is learning how to live with “Alyse 2.0”. She is living proof that you have to fight to get what you need in healthcare.