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Estates & Wills & Trusts

Training for community workers can reduce elder abuse

By Charles Ticker

I recently found an interesting story from Australia: From GPs to hairdressers: community workers need elder abuse training. The author comments on recent recommendations that a program be implemented for healthcare workers, financial services, and law enforcement in order to help train such workers to better recognize the signs of elder abuse. Part of the article comments on the findings that 91 per cent of violence and 71 per cent of financial abuse against seniors takes place at the hands of family members. As such, there are many instances of elder abuse that remain hidden as the seniors do not want to alienate the abusive relatives.

I think this is a very important topic that requires a lot more attention in Canada. As the population ages, instances of elder abuse are increasing.

As an estate lawyer, I have come across many examples of elder abuse perpetrated by family members. It is important to note that signs of elder abuse seldom manifest overtly. Clues and evidence of elder abuse can be subtle and usually appear over time. The victims may feel powerless and may choose to endure the abuse out of fear of that they will be abandoned by family members.

It is crucial to provide better training to front-line workers in order to spot the signs of abuse. Caregivers and service providers who are in close proximity to elders on a regular basis should be able to identify moods and changes in attitude over time. As the above article points out, a person’s barber or hairdresser may be able to discover signs of abuse by simply engaging in friendly discussion with that person on a regular basis. Indeed, I once had a case where the victim who was allegedly abused by a family member confided in his barber and we obtained affidavit evidence from the barber. There are many other kinds of workers that may be in a similar position of confidence with a victim of elder abuse.

Some subtle signs that elder abuse may be taking place include:

- Isolation of the senior from social activities, friends, and social interaction due to undue influence by a family member. This kind of alienation from social life may make the individual feel even more vulnerable than he or she really is. The senior may appear to be withdrawing from social activities over time at his or her own volition, however it is important not to make any assumptions and to ask further questions.

- Loss of independence and an increased reliance on a specific family member to the exclusion of others. This is a tactic that may be used by an individual in order to place distance between the elder and other siblings. The individual may attempt to exert more influence over the senior by making it more difficult for other members to interact with him or her. This may happen in instances when the parties live in the same residence.

- Changes to succession planning excluding other family members, or reducing what they may be entitled to. This may also be tied to the granting of power of attorney documentation to an individual to the exclusion of other family members, or it may result in changes being made to a will at a later stage in life. This kind of scenario is not uncommon and it can result in costly estate litigation.

Elder abuse is a particularly disturbing as it makes life miserable for people when they are most vulnerable. There are obviously many other signs of elder abuse, so it is important to develop more community programs and a collective effort to detect elder abuse and help victims.

If you believe that you are or a relative is the victim of elder abuse, you should contact the police. It is important to consult an estate lawyer. Any changes to succession planning or losses caused by unlawful conduct by a power of attorney as a result of an abusive relationship can be very costly to undo through estate litigation.

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