An eye-opening case of elder abuse

There is a type of abuse you don’t hear about much but is one psychologists believe has persisted for generations.

We often hear of spousal abuse and sexual abuse, while bullying has been the most recent hot-button issue. But rarely, if ever, do people think about elder abuse. Until recently, I was one of those people.

There is a family that is close to me and has been telling me about their ordeal involving their patriarch.

Their story began last summer when the man, whom I’ll call Grandpa, suffered a stroke. His prospects didn’t look good for what seemed like the longest time until he finally took a turn for the better.

Already well into his 80s, Grandpa was never going to completely recover from the stroke but perked up as well as one could. He began remembering his loved ones, understanding where he was and what happened to him.

Eventually, he was moved from a metropolitan hospital to an assisted living facility in the small town where he has long been a well-respected community leader. It appeared everything would go as smooth as it could for the once vibrant, self-reliant man now confined to a wheelchair and likely to live out his days in an assisted-living facility.

Unfortunately, his two daughters had differing opinions on his mental and physical state.

The youngest daughter, whom I will call Susan, was content to help keep her father comfortable and happy while helping him get as close to his old self as possible. The eldest daughter, whom I will call Dawn, felt her father’s mind was lost and that he could no longer be trusted to make decisions for himself — including how his money was spent.
This is where the problems began.

Renee Boomgaarden, who works for Badlands Human Services and holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, said financial greed can be the driving force behind many elder abuse cases.

“This happens more than we think,” Boomgaarden said. “Mainly it’s because of greed. Sometimes it’s people who want power and control, but it’s mainly greed.”

Grandpa did very well for himself in his career and in his long-term investments, so there was money to be had.

The family feud reached an apex when Dawn went to a lawyer, got power of attorney and began using Grandpa’s checkbook.

Later, unbeknownst to anyone except for one official at the care facility, Dawn checked Grandpa out for a day in an effort to be declared incompetent by an out-of-town psychologist who had never met the man.

Susan found out and alerted high-ranking officials at the assisted living facility, who quickly set up a meeting that included everyone from the two daughters and their families, their brother, lawyers and the facility’s CEO, doctors and nurses.

Not long into the meeting, the assisted living facility’s ombudsman declared Dawn’s treatment of her father as a severe case of elder abuse. The ombudsman determined Dawn had been taking advantage of her father’s mental and physical state for personal gain and went as far as to lie to him about her own sister’s intentions.

Today, Grandpa’s funds are paid through a lawyer. Dawn and Susan, despite living in the same small town, rarely speak. Neither Susan, Dawn or their brother have access to his checkbook. His will is signed and sealed. No family members can be in Grandpa’s room at the care facility without the door being open.

In North Dakota, a bill was passed in this year’s legislative session that, as of Aug. 1, requires all medical and human service professionals to report any perceived case of abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults.

The Fargo Police Department on Thursday announced the assignment of one detective to work exclusively on crimes against the elderly, saying it is a growing problem. A case was cited where a 90-year-old woman at a senior center had $100 in birthday money stolen from her. But, as we know, it’s often much worse than that.

Boomgaarden said she has also come across cases of physical abuse against the elderly and recommends that anyone who suspects elder abuse of any kind contact either Vulnerable Adult Protective Services with the North Dakota Department of Human Services or, if the matter is very serious, law enforcement officials.

She also said stories like Grandpa’s troubles with his two daughters should serve as a lesson to others to make sure their finances and power of attorney are in order while they are healthy and competent.

“I think that it’s really important to think about their assets and to think about how they want their property, their assets distributed and what they want, particularly making a will,” Boomgaarden said. “It’s critical that people do this when they are competent to do so. People need to talk about with their family, ‘This is how I want my property dispersed or disposed of.’”

Monke is the managing editor of The Dickinson Press. Email him at dmonke@thedickinsonpress.com. Tweet him at monkebusiness.

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