Family members exploiting elderly 'more common than you think'
Dealing with elder abuse and exploitation is part of Elderbridge Elder Rights Specialist Nancy Ketcham's job. Many of her cases, since joining the agency more than three years ago, have involved a senior being financially exploited or emotionally abused by a family member.
"Cases involving a family member are a lot more common than you think," Ketcham said. "I see cases like this all the time. Sons that are taking their father's money. A son who coerced his father with alzheimer's disease to sign over the farm. It is unbelievable what people will do when they are desperate for money."
Ketcham started helping a woman who moved back to Spencer recently after two years of alleged emotional and financial abuse at the hands of her grandson and his wife. At her request, the 90-year-old woman will be referred to as "Diane" to protect her identity.
Diane moved from Arizona to live with her grandson and his family after her husband died. She alleged her grandson emotionally and financially abused her and used her to to do household chores and take care of his children. She estimates he stole approximately $10,000 from her over two years and stole her car.
"I was not treated very well," Diane said. "All they wanted was a free babysitter and the money I had saved from my mobile home sale. I am on social security, widowed and I am handicapped. My social security check doesn't cover very much, about my rent and my doctor bills."
Though Diane was "heart-broken" to leave her great grandchildren, she knew she had to get out of the situation after a doctor advised her to do so.
"I fell when I lived down there and when the doctor checked me, he said I needed physical therapy," Diane said. "The doctor told me that I needed to get out of my grandson's house. There was too much stress."
Since moving to Spencer, Diane has come out of her depression and calls her current residence her "home."
"They were verbally abusive to her," Ketcham said. "They made her go to the doctor to try and have her declared incompetent saying she couldn't manage her money. They tried to make her a dependent adult which she was not. They were trying to do everything to get access to her bank accounts and her life insurance policies. They pretty much ran her life."
Most of the money was allegedly taken from Diane through ATM and liquor store withdrawals directly from her bank account by her grandson's wife who she had listed on her bank account. Though she initially reported the car theft to the police, they told her she couldn't do anything because her grandson was listed on the title.
"I don't know that she will ever get that money back," Ketcham said. "One thing that she did do, that I praise her for, is she got out of the situation. She put up with it for two years and then she got out of it. The abusers were the ones who actually moved her up here because they figured out that she was getting a handle on the situation."
Ketcham emphasizes seniors need to keep their bank accounts secure, to go through bank statements regularly and to limit the access others have to their bank account unless they are unable to manage your own finances.
"This year I feel better than I have since my husband died because I don't have all that stress and anxiety," Diane said. "I am feeling more relaxed here. As far as I am concerned, any senior citizen that has a family that won't help them and tries to run their life, they are better off not being with family. I learned that the hard way."