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P epidemic puts ageing parents at risk of financial abuse

The P epidemic is taking a hidden toll on an unexpected group – the ageing parents of adults using meth, who Wesley Community Action social workers say can be the victims of financial and other abuse.

In some cases, older people have lost thousands of dollars to their P-dependent children.

Meghan Cavanagh, who works with the Elder Abuse Response Service run by Wesley Community Action in the greater Wellington region, says she’s dealt with a cluster of cases recently.

“Even a small P habit can cost $700 to $1000 a week,” she says. “The financial abuse can be very subtle, such as eating their parent’s food and not contributing towards the costs of living in the house, or more seriously, taking money from their parent’s account.”

Sometimes ageing parents are taken to money machines and forced to make withdrawals.

Recent examples include a P-dependent woman who stole her mother’s savings. “We have other cases where we’ll never know how much financial damage adult children have inflicted on their parents.”

Ms Cavanagh says financial abuse can be part of a wider range of elder abuse, including psychological and sometimes physical abuse. Most cases of P-related elder abuse are referred to the response service by the police as a result of family violence.

“The violence against the older person is what triggers the neighbours to call the police, who refer them to us. Once you get mum or dad talking they start to slowly disclose what’s been happening. It can take a while because there are a lot of societal taboos around P use.”

She says older people are particularly vulnerable to financial abuse because they start to lose their financial literacy and capacity as they age. While they may be able to keep track of cash, many find it more difficult to reconcile bank accounts with a card associated with them.

“Things like pay-wave cards are an easy target because you don’t need a pin to use them. Or an older person may give their card and pin number to a family member to do the shopping and suddenly $300 is gone from their account.”

Claire Booth, manager of Wesley Community Action’s Elder Care Team, says financial abuse of older people is common, even in cases where P is not involved.

“We believe money is a driving motivation for elder abuse. People may use psychological abuse, such as bullying or coercion or blackmail or threats, but their motivation is often financial.”

She says that in most cases older people are abused by members of their own family or by friends. “Older people are particularly vulnerable when they are isolated and alone and have dementia as well.”

Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Friday June 15


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