Elder Abuse: Two True Stories of Support

Senior man is sitting alone at the dining table in his home, with a worried expression on his face.

“Joe” is a lonely, friendly, and trusting 78-year-old man with a soft spot for those with hard-luck stories. He was befriended by “Sally,” a much younger woman, at a laundromat. Sally offered to help him carry his laundry out to his car and then rode with him back to his home. She told Joe she had nowhere to live, so he allowed Sally to stay the night. Soon after, she moved into his home and began to take control of his life.

After Sally moved in, she began referring to herself as Joe’s girlfriend. Several of her acquaintances came to visit, and some stayed overnight without Joe’s permission. Sally and her group of friends began stealing from Joe’s home, and his bank became concerned when Sally frequently accompanied him while he made large cash withdrawals. It was discovered that Sally was also writing checks from Joe’s account and one of her other “boyfriends” had somehow convinced Joe to sign over the title of his car to him. Joe also had several overdue bills and was at risk of having his electricity and gas shut off. All of Joe’s money was either directed to or siphoned off by Sally.

Protecting Joe from financial exploitation

Joe was referred to the Aging and Disability Services’ Elder Abuse Case Management Program by a local law enforcement agency. The program provides advocacy and social work support for individuals 60 years and older throughout King County who are struggling with abuse, neglect, or exploitation (including financial exploitation) by trusted others.

On Joe’s behalf, an elder abuse case manager worked with law enforcement and a victim advocate, obtaining a protection order against Sally and connecting Joe to volunteer transportation services until his car was returned. The case manager also worked with one of Joe’s long-time neighbors, whom he trusted, to help ensure that his utility bills got paid and his electricity and gas remained in service.

Sally and her cohort were arrested for their exploitation of Joe. The case manager worked with law enforcement and the prosecuting attorney’s office to support Joe during the court process, accompanying him to court hearings and offering reassurance through a stressful time.

Although the outcome of this story is considered a success—both Sally and her cohort remain in prison and Joe is now safe from their exploitation—the case manager worries that Joe will be vulnerable to exploitation by others, given his trusting nature and poor insight and judgement. Joe’s neighbor keeps a watchful eye out for him and the case manager stays in touch by phone and through home visits.

The Aging and Disability Services Elder Abuse Case Management Program serves abused, neglected, and exploited older adults by connecting them to information and resources to address their needs, and works in coordination with law enforcement, Adult Protective Services, legal services, and other service professionals. This interdisciplinary approach helps to more effectively support and serve those in need.

Supporting Melody’s independence

“Melody” is a 63-year-old woman referred to the Aging and Disability Services Elder Abuse Case Management Program by the nonprofit agency Sound Generations. At the time, Melody had fled the home she shared with her husband, who had mentally abused her for decades. Like many women who are abused, she had attempted to leave him several times in previous years and then returned to live with him due to financial hardship. Melody searched regularly for an affordable place of her own but was unsuccessful. Her only source of income was Social Security—$750 per month.

Melody lived in shelters, in her car and, when possible, at her daughter’s home. Unfortunately, she could not consistently rely on her daughter’s help because her daughter had her own personal problems. With several disabling health issues, Melody found that women’s shelters were not designed to accommodate her disabilities. She also found it difficult to relate to some of the women in the shelters, due to substantial age differences and because, unlike Melody, many participants were in various stages of substance abuse recovery.

The elder abuse case manager offered support and encouraged her to continue working closely with her mental health therapist during these very difficult times. Melody’s primary goal was obtaining safe, affordable housing of her own that would accommodate her physical needs and help stabilize her life. Diligently, she worked with the elder abuse case manager to apply for permanent, subsidized housing as well as transitional housing programs, and was placed on multiple wait lists. After nearly a year of unstable housing which increased Melody’s psychological and physical stress, a unit was offered to her. The case manager assisted in locating emergency funds to pay for the required deposit and move-in costs and was able to secure other funding for household basics.

Melody now lives in her own affordable apartment and, unlike her life of isolation while living with her abusive husband, she socializes regularly with other tenants in the building. She has made friends. Melody finally feels like her life is her own and, since securing stable housing, she has felt able to focus more on her health care needs. Feeling safe in her own home, and removed from the abuse of her spouse, she says she is considering pursuing a divorce. As she contemplates this, the case manager can refer her to a local legal organization that works with victims of domestic violence, and collaborate with their staff to support Melody through the divorce process, should she choose to move forward.

Joe’s and Melody’s stories are two examples of the many ways in which the Aging and Disability Services Elder Abuse Case Management Program supports abused individuals as they navigate through support systems and work to stabilize their lives.

Contributor Kathi Church provides case management services to older adults who have experienced abuse by someone they trust. For more information about the Aging and Disability Services Elder Abuse Case Management Program and additional resources, click here.

graphic image for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day building strong support for elders

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is June 15.

What is Elder Abuse?

The National Center on Elder Abuse describes a variety of ways in which older adults are harmed within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust:

  • Emotional abuse means verbal assaults, threats of abuse, harassment, or intimidation.
  • Financial or material exploitation means the misuse or withholding of an older adult’s resources by another.
  • Passive neglect is a caregiver’s failure to provide an older adult with life’s necessities, including, but not limited to, food, clothing, shelter, or medical care.
  • Willful deprivation means denying an older adult medication, medical care, shelter, food, a therapeutic device, or other physical assistance, and exposing that person to the risk of physical, mental, or emotional harm—except when the older, competent adult has expressed a desire to go without such care.
  • Physical abuse means inflicting physical pain or injury upon an older adult.
  • Confinement means restraining or isolating an older adult, other than for medical reasons.
  • Sexual abuse means sexual activity with an older adult, when the older adult is unable to understand, unwilling to consent, threatened, or physically forced.

Elder abuse is more common than most people think, and frequently abuse goes unreported. Help is available! In Seattle-King County, call Community Living Connections at 1-844-348-5464 (toll-free) or the King County Elder Abuse Hotline at 1-866-221-4909.

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of AgeWise King County (click here).