Tips from Dr Monika Dass on dealing with Financial Abuse of Seniors

Tips from Dr Monika Dass on dealing with Financial Abuse of Seniors

On Saturday, October 31, Seniors Today hosted Dr Monika M Dass, a senior psychologist, to speak on Financial Abuse of Senior Citizens and other Psychological Concerns. Dr Noor Gill captures the key takeaways from the session

As part of the Health Live series, Seniors Today invited leading Aurangabad, Maharashtra-based senior psychologist to speak on Financial Abuse of Senior Citizens and other Psychological Concerns. Dr Dass addressed questions from a cross-section of readers. The session was conducted on Saturday, October 31, 2020.

Dr  Dass is a Chartered Psychologist, a Chartered Scientist and an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, UK.  Professionally, she has counselled over 12,500 individuals in a span of 20  years and has published several papers in both Indian and international journals.

 A trained pianist and vocalist from the Trinity College of Music, London, Dr Dass has influenced many lives with the joyful learning of music. She has been actively involved in several popular musicals such as The Sound of Music, Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and so on…with her expertise in developing children through drama. She firmly believes that any extracurricular activity can help tap into one’s potential and bring out the best in an individual.

Dr Dass quoted a retired teacher in his 70s who wrote in his diary: “They separated me from my books, I kept silent. Then they kept me away from my wife, I still kept silent. They put me away from my home, I had to keep silent. My daily medicines provided me the only company. My age was a burden and I lived in silence.” To bring to light the turmoil and incidents of sufferings in old age. 

The elderly face various forms of emotional, physical, psychological, financial and social abuse. This can range from neglect to physical trauma, food refusal to financial neglect, from a casual insult to separation from the spouse. But no matter what the form is, the impact is manifold and creates sustained mental trauma to the person already shackled down by age. 

Being old is an experience of wisdom, but it also brings in vulnerability and unfortunately, our surroundings exploit and take advantage of these moments of weakness. 

 

On Healthy Ageing:

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines healthy ageing as the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age. 

Functional ability is about having the capabilities that enable all people to be and do things that add value to their life- this includes abilities to meet their basic needs, to learn, grow and make decisions, to be more vial, to build and maintain relationships and to contribute to the society. 

India is greying fast and it is the worst country to grow old in. According to a report from the Ministry of Statistics andProgramme Implementation mentions that, in 2016, the elderly, above the age of 60 years formed 8.5% of our total population. According to the WHO, the estimation is increasing by 3.5% per year. These numbers, however helpful, cannot predict the struggles the elderly face in the community. 

Historically, Indians are perceived as familial beings with the young and old co-existing, in reality however, it is a myth as the International Network of Prevention of Elder Abuse  in 2016 report mentions, India as the leading Asian country in terms of the elder exploitation and abuse.

 

On Elder Abuse 

WHO defines elder abuse as a single or repeated acts or lack of appropriate action occurring in any relationship where there’s an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an elder, senior person.

Expectation of trust makes an important part of the definition as most perpetrators of the abuse are members of families or caregivers in old age facilities. 

Besides financial exploitation of the elderly, casual humiliation, ridicule or criticism on grounds of age are such common practices that it has become almost our lifestyle. 

A study conducted by Steptoe and Wardle, suggested that life skills like persistence, consciousness and control are important, both in the early as well as later years of life. They found higher scores on five life skills- consciousness, emotional stability, determination, control and optimism. 

For 50-68-years-olds, average optimism levels keep rising higher with age however that pattern changes somewhere around the age of 68 at which point, the age-optimism curve swings back down and the average optimism levels begin to fall as people grow older. 

Changes in optimism are associated with changes in health and in one’s lifestyle. More than five decades of research have found that optimism is a potent health tonic. Optimistic people-

– Live healthier and longer. 

– They have better cardiovascular health. 

– Stronger immune function.

– Lower levels of stress.

– And a higher threshold for pain.

Old age can be tough but it doesn’t have to be, these experts also suggest that it is important to nurture and maintain these life skills for the overall health and well-being be it physical, mental or social health in old age. People who have more life skills enjoy a range of benefits including- 

– Greater financial stability

– Less depression

– Low social isolation

– Better health and fewer chronic diseases. 

90% of seniors prefer to live in their own homes during their golden years. However it is also important to understand that you require some basic set of skills to do so. And if even one of these vital skills is missing, self-care can become a serious problem leading to safety, comfort and health issues. 

Living independently encompasses more than just the ability to take care if oneself, it requires physical strength, prevent falls and handle self-care, maintain food and prepare meals. You need available transportation for activities outside of home; you also need to be doing age appropriate cognitive activities. 

Happiness is being surrounded by people who may not be your real family or related to you by blood, but who love and support you any way. 

On Elder Financial Abuse

This is a type of elder abuse where misappropriation of financial resources or abuse of financial control in the context of relationship where there is an expectation of trust, causes harm to an elder person. 

Some of these practices include:

– Money or property being taken or used without their permission for example, removal from their home and the use of the home by the abuser or depositing income, such as their pension or benefit cheques.

– The seniors’ signature is forged or identity is misappropriated for financial transactions. 

– The senior is coerced or influenced to sign over wills and deeds or coerced to execute legal documents they don’t fully understand. 

– The abuser obtains the power of attorney or guardianship

– Money is borrowed from the senior but never repaid. 

Family members included in the abuse of the elderly may include spouses, children or grandchildren. They may engage in the activity because they may feel justified.  They are taking what they will later inherit or due to the sense of entitlement or because of a negative sense of relationship with the elder person or that it is some the price of a promise of a lifelong care.  Or they may take property or money out of fear that another member of the family might get the property or money. 

 

Laws for the Elderly

During the present Covid-19 times, entrapment for prolonged times has increased the rates of domestic and institutionalised violence/ abuse, and this is worrying.

The Government of India provides various concessions and facilities to its senior citizens. The union cabinet’s latest decision to approve a new law, Maintenance of Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 aims at serving the elderly to live in self-respect and peace. The rights of the older person are the entitlement and independence claimed by the elderly, above the age of 60. Elderly rights are the fundamental right of the citizens of India.

This is a legislation initiated by the ministry of social justice and empowerment to provide more effective provision for maintenance and welfare of parents and senior citizens. It makes it illegal for children and heirs to charge maintenance to parents and senior citizens in the form of monthly allowances. It also provides simple, speedy and inexpensive mechanisms for the protection of life and property of the senior citizens. 

A universal health insurance and pension scheme will certainly be a welcome move in our country and several advocacy groups have been working towards promoting a governmental policy on the same.

The Indian legal system has not yet acknowledged the concept of elder abuse. Hence, there is no legislative protection that exists against elder abuse. Though there is no separate legislation for prevention for this, the following is the enumeration of the dispersed visions in the Indian legal system, which covers the section of elders-

– Physical abuse:  The Indian Penal Code of 1860 is a generic enactment which penalizes almost all kinds of abuses generally against everybody irrespective of gender, age, caste, race, etc.

– Financial abuse:  The CRPC of 1973, sec 125 allows maintenance to parents and wives’ which indirectly covers the interim maintenance of elder parents ensuring the economic security of the elder. 

 

June 15 is the designated World Elder Abuse Awareness Day by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. Elder abuse is a social evil and reflects badly on our mental health. Many countries like the US, UK and Australia have strict laws to protect the elderly. 

 

Challenges for a Single Elder

Some of the commonly faced struggles by a single elder include-

1. ​Adjusting to changing family structure, shifting family relationships. Transitioning. Going from being a couple to a single elder, etc.

2.​ Strengthening social network i.e. if you were dependent on your family or your husband for chores, it is very important to have cheerful, fun loving women around you and to learn to get things done on your own

3.​ Economic dependency

4.​ Availability, affordability and accessibility to healthcare facilities as you grow older. 

5.​ Lack of proper infrastructure and elder proof homes.

6.​ Inability to become independent, constantly seeking for permission to do this that or the other 

7.​ Families with children failing to take responsibility. Sons with domineering wives, daughters with selfish husbands. 

8.​Nutritional problems 

9.​ Housing and income

10. ​Social networks and customs 

11.​ Losing the will to love due to lack to social concern.

 

Advice for the Elderly

 

  1. Keep busy and learn something new
  2. Get in shape for your next birthday
  3. Stay fit and have regular check-ups
  4. Eat sensibly
  5. Get a good 7-8 hours of sleep
  6. Reconnect with the nature, recharge your batteries
  7. Smile as often as you can
  8. Reconnect with your friends
  9. Live in the moment and have no regrets from the past
  10. Give thanks every day. Practice gratitude and forgiveness.
  11. Live your life to the fullest. Age is just a number. You have immense wisdom and worldly knowledge on your side.
  12. Trust. Build positive relationships, with resilience and hope.
  13. Family plays a very important role at this time, but don’t let them take advantage of you.
  14. Handle your finances.

i. Find a good trusted lawyer and prepare your will fairly 

ii. Find a good and trusted chartered accountant to help and advice you on how to save taxes, file returns

iii. Find a good and trusted financial advisor to help you invest correctly, one where you get a decent interest. 

15. Manage your stress better. 

16. Redefine yourself, just because you’ve retired doesn’t mean that that is the end of the world. Redefine your whole position.

About Dr Noor Gill

Dr Noor Gill, MBBS, deciphers the space between heartbeats, figuratively and literally. Powered by frequent long naps and caffeine, she believes that “knowledge without giving back to society is meaningless” and works to make caring cool again.

View all posts by Dr Noor Gill

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