WOODSTOCK – Glynnis Walker Anderson never got to say goodbye to her mother.
Anderson, a Woodstock resident, was the long-distance caregiver for her widowed mother, Rosalind “Joyce” Walker, who lived in Victoria, British Columbia, before she died in June 2011 at the age of 87.
Anderson thought she had the situation under control.
She was handling the upkeep and bills for her mother’s home. She had taken care of all the paperwork, directing a will to be put together and having her mother grant her power of attorney.
When her mother’s health started to deteriorate and she began exhibiting signs of dementia, Anderson found her mother a nursing home, a difficult decision because her mother missed her dog, her house and “her little bit of heaven.”
Despite all that, however, Anderson’s mother became the victim of elder abuse and fraud, Anderson said.
Studies have found between 7.6 percent and 10 percent of older Americans have experienced abuse in the previous year, according to statistics compiled by the federal government’s National Center of Elder Abuse.
Older adults with Alzheimer’s disease – such as Walker – were found to be nearly five times more likely to have been the victim of abuse than those without the degenerative cognitive disease, according to a 2013 research article in the Journal of Aging Research.
“We see everything,” said Marsha Boncosky, adult protective services supervisor for Senior Services Associates in McHenry County.
The nonprofit is contracted by the state of Illinois to investigate the abuse and exploitation of seniors and people with disabilities in the area.
“We see a great deal of financial exploitation, taking the elder’s money for their own purposes,” Boncosky said. “We see a lot of emotional abuse, threatening our elders and demeaning them because they are limited in their abilities. We see a fair share of neglect, sometimes passive where the caregiver doesn’t know there are resources. We also see willful deprivation.”
The women who Anderson said perpetrated the fraud against her mother established themselves as friends and ultimately as Walker’s caretakers and guardians. The women were never charged and Anderson ended up settling the dispute out of court.
Anderson said they took money and valuables from Walker’s home, had Walker sign checks draining her accounts, had a new will drafted that divvied up the value of Walker’s home and successfully challenged Anderson’s guardianship of her mother.
Anderson fought them along the way, hiring seven lawyers over the three-year process, but the women were successful in painting Anderson – to her mother, some of the nursing home staff and the guardianship judge – as an uncaring daughter who lived thousands of miles away and who was stealing from her mother.
In the vast majority of cases, the abusers are family members, most often adult children and spouses, according to a report from the National Center on Elder Abuse. The family members often have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, a mental illness or feel burdened by their role as caregiver.
“A lot of time, too, it’s, ‘I’m going to get their money when they die, so I might as well use it now,’ ” Boncosky said, adding the situations are “all very complicated,” a tangle of family loyalties, a fear of getting others into trouble and often an unwillingness to recognize elder abuse is a problem in their community.
When older adults come into Dr. Baby Than’s family practice office in Algonquin, she takes note of whether the patient is always looking to the caregiver to answer questions, whether there’s been a sudden drop in weight or whether there are any injuries.
Her first step is to separate the caregivers and patients, asking questions about their days – Are they living together? What does their routine look like? What kind of food is provided? Are they taking them to the doctor? – and then trying to discern from their answers whether there is a problem.
It’s a delicate line she walks as a family provider, she said, adding she’s never had to report an instance of elder abuse.
“You can miss the signs or be overprotective,” Than said. “You can go either way. It’s for the family’s protection, too. If they are caring, it can be overcaring rather than abuse, and then they’ve lost the physician relationship, too. They might have more issues with seeing the provider. We build this trust, and we don’t want to lose that trust.”
Two years after Walker died, Anderson finally settled, agreeing to $136,500 in exchange for the women withdrawing their claims on the house, and she decided to write and self-publish a memoir chronicling her experiences. She also started teaching continuing education classes at McHenry County College designed to encourage people to be proactive in their end-of-life preparation and to know how to protect themselves.