Preventing Financial Abuse of Older Adults

According to Canada’s Department of Justice, seven percent of seniors report some form of emotional or financial abuse and the overall rate of police-reported violence against seniors has increased 20 percent since 1998.

As our population ages, elder abuse has become a serious and growing concern.  Elder abuse exists in many forms, including neglect and physical, sexual, psychological or financial abuse. The perpetrators are more often than not family members, caregivers or friends.

Constable Trevor Zwarich from the Winnipeg Police Service said some of the warning signs of abuse include a sudden change in behavior or appearance such as deterioration in personal hygiene, untreated bedsores or a sudden onset of physical injuries or repeated ‘accidents’ causing injuries.

There could also be a change in banking activities and legal documents such as powers of attorney or a lack of money to pay for rent, utility bills or food.

Significant Impacts of Elder Abuse

The impact of elder abuse can be significant, leading to long-term physical and psychological problems like depression, stress, anxiety and even high blood pressure and panic attacks.

For those who have gone through elder abuse, there are often feelings of shame or self-blame attached to the experience, as was the case with Marianne, an 85-year-old Manitoba resident. Marianne has lived a wonderful and full life, immigrating to Canada from Holland in 1958 then making her way west from Toronto.

She settled in a rural community and was a successful reporter for many years before she retired to write her life story.
When Marianne lost her beloved partner of 30 years in 2002, eventually moving into an independent living facility, she found herself alone and was soon befriended by a woman in town. The woman drove Marianne to various doctors’ appointments after two complicated open heart surgeries and soon offered to take care of her finances.

Marianne agreed to give her power of attorney so the woman could pay her bills while she recovered. They built what Marianne thought was a solid friendship and then the subtle manipulation began.

“At first she wanted to buy a car and told me if she paid cash, she would get a better deal so I agreed to loan her $25,000,” Marianne explained. “Then she kept talking about opening up her own business and how it would be easier if she didn’t have to pay a mortgage so I wrote a cheque for $60,000.”

After only two car payments were made to Marianne, the money stopped coming in and soon the friendship was over. “I never saw her anymore and I got the feeling she got what she wanted. I liked her, loved her really and I trusted her. That was the worst thing that I trusted her.”

After encouragement from her local Community Resource Coordinator, Marianne called the provincial Seniors Abuse Support Line for help. She eventually hired a lawyer and the woman finally agreed to pay back a mere $100 a month.
Marianne still sees her around town but has never received an apology of any kind.

“At first I never saw it as abuse because she didn’t hold a gun to my head,” Marianne said, “but I realized it was emotional, she took advantage of my feelings and my situation.”

Constable Trevor Zwarich said there are some preventative steps older adults can take to guard against elder abuse.
He recommends staying sociable and remaining in contact with friends and neighbours who can check on you. “Ask a friend to visit you weekly,” Constable Zwarich suggested, “even brief visits allow for observations of your well-being.”

Share openly with friends and let them know if you change addresses or move in with a relative.  If you are concerned that you or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, there are many resources available including A&O Support Services for Older Adults’ Safe Suite Program.  A & O provides free, temporary housing for men and women over 55 who need a safe place to live when they leave an abusive situation.

Concerned about someone?

A & O also offers elder abuse counseling, which you can access by calling 204-956-6440 or 1-888-333-31211-888-333-3121. The Manitoba government also funds a Seniors Abuse Support Line toll free, 24 hours a day at 1-888-896-7183.

How Sunrise Credit Union combats the Financial Abuse of Older Adults:

Sunrise Credit Union has always had the best interests of its members at the heart of everything it does.
However, Sunrise Credit Union has taken it a step further by making a program available to its employees, empowering them with skills and training to recognize and prevent the financial abuse of seniors.

The program, Financial Abuse of Older Adults: Recognize, Review and Respond, features three stories, filmed and produced in Manitoba, in which employees successfully identify, review, and respond to examples of financial abuse.

Since Sunrise Credit Union began offering this program in December 2014, the majority of its employees have taken it.


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