PAUL rang the Age Action helpline because his 80-year-old father, who lived alone, was being forced to withdraw money from his bank account and give it to Paul’s sister.
When Paul asked his father about it, he said that she had shouted at him and threatened to put him in a nursing home if he didn’t give her the money.
Sineád has been diagnosed with dementia. During a period when she was experiencing reduced mental capacity her son persuaded her to set up a joint bank account.
He then used this account to get a credit card and made a number of purchases for which Sineád was charged.
Happily, in this case, Sineád eventually realised what had happened and, with the help of her daughter, got the bank to reimburse her.
These are just two of the financial elder abuse cases reported to Age Action’s helpline in recent years.
In 2014, the most recent year for which we have figures, there were more than 2,500 cases of elder abuse reported to the HSE and one in five were financial abuse.
The reality is that every year hundreds of older people face demands for money, have their pensions withheld or their possessions taken. Others are pressured to change their wills or to co-sign loans.
To make it worse, in the overwhelming majority of cases of elder abuse, the perpetrators are immediate family members.
Age Action and Ulster Bank have been working together since 2014 to raise awareness of elder financial abuse. With their help, we carried out a survey of their customer-facing bank staff to gauge how serious the problem is.
Of almost 500 Ulster Bank staff 45 per cent said they had dealt with at least one suspected case of financial elder abuse in the previous 12 months.
With the bank’s support, Age Action has produced leaflets and an online video to identify the warning signs of financial elder abuse, helping older people to protect themselves and to ensure their friends and family know the warnings signs to watch out for and to act when they suspect elder abuse.
In a way, it’s not surprising that issues like elder abuse are becoming more common in Ireland. Our society is changing.
Last month’s census figures showed that the number of people aged over 65 has increased since 2011 by 19.1 per cent to 637,567. There was also a 15.6 per cent increase in the number of people aged over 85 to 67,555.
People are living longer, healthier, lives and this is a huge success story, but it creates challenges as well.
How can we support older people in rural Ireland? What needs to be done to ensure we have a fair, effective, State Pension system? How can we ensure people have choice in the care they get and can stay at home as long as possible?
These are tough questions, but they are not impossible to answer. We can not only prepare for an ageing society but benefit from it by challenging our perceptions of ageing, by liberating the potential there is among older people.
The stereotype of people in their 60s and over as passive dependents couldn’t be further from the truth. They’re workers and carers and entrepreneurs. They’re the people running the residents’ associations and Tidy Town committees and GAA clubs at the heart of any vibrant community.
Rising numbers of older people is referred to as a demographic crisis, but it is no such thing.
We face a policy crisis caused by the failure of successive government to prepare and plan for the changes shown in the census figures.
That’s why it is so timely that the Citizens’ Assembly, having examined the issue of the 8 th Amendment to the Constitution, is now moving to consider the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population. The recommendations made by the Assembly will go before the members of the Oireachtas for further debate.
This is an opportunity for everyone to have their say on what we need to do to make Ireland the best country in the world, to shape the agenda of the citizens in the Assembly, who in turn have the opportunity to shape and drive Government policy.
Age Action will be making our own submission but the Assembly needs to hear from individual older people, and from their families, to ensure that they get a full picture of what it is like to grow old in Ireland.
We can eliminate elder abuse. We can have a fair and sustainable pension system.
We can provide care in the home that protects the dignity and independent of those who rely on it.
The Citizens’ Assembly is your opportunity to help us do so.
Submissions can be made online at www.citizensassembly.ie by today, Mary 19.